16 years ago my wife told me to stop traveling so much for work “or else” – so I opened a chocolate shop and have been making and selling gourmet chocolate ever since! I’m chocolatier Norman Love, AM(and my guard dog Sid)A about chocolate/pastry/b...
Hey Reddit! I’m chocolatier Norman Love of Fort Myers-based Norman Love Confections.
After working for 13 years as the executive pastry chef for Ritz-Carlton, I got tired of traveling 40+ weeks out of the year and missing out on my children growing up. I started making chocolate and selling it to local chefs and restaurants in 2001, and in 2002 USA Today somehow discovered us and named us as one of the top chocolate producers in the country and our business took off!
In the 15 years since, we’ve been fortunate enough to open 4 retail locations & a gelato shop, partner with Princess Cruises to provide chocolate and custom desserts for their “Chocolate Journeys” program, and attract some of the most talented pastry chefs in the business to work for us. I love what I do and I’d love to answer any questions you might have for me. AMA!
SID PICS: https://www.facebook.com/normanloveconfections/posts/10154760698812485
EDIT 1 I mentioned this somewhere in the comments, but for the record my wife never gave me any sort of ultimatum - the "or else" was meant to be a joking summary of a series of long discussions we had about trying to find a way for me to actually be able to spend time at home with my family. I've always had her full support, and if I had wanted to, I could have continued working at the Ritz for years and she would have continued raising our kids on her own. I didn't, though. I traveled so often that my kids thought I worked at the airport and that was heartbreaking.
EDIT 2 You guys are awesome and this has been a blast. I'm old and tired so I'm going to call it a night but I'll try to answer as many questions as I can when I wake up in the morning! Thanks for joining me!
EDIT 3 People are actually interested in pastry/chocolate?! This is so cool! Sid and I are just starting our day but if it's allowed I'd like to reopen this for discussion at 9 if anyone is interested? Will try to answer all your questions then.
EDIT 4 Okay, we're back! Ask us whatever you'd like: https://twitter.com/NormanLoveCandy/status/828960200539377664
EDIT 5 Couple links if you guys want to check us out what we're up to: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter
EDIT 6 My pastry team is going to kill me if I don't get back in the kitchen to help them out. Thank you all SO MUCH for your interest in our company, our products, and our 8 lb. mascot. I'll try to work my way through the rest of the comments throughout the week - we're slammed with Valentine's Day coming up but I'll do my best :) thanks again everybody, have a wonderful rest of you day & week!
used to play WoW with your son
Wait, is that the computer game that he'd lock himself in his room and play for hours while yelling a lot?
And I actually just told him that - we're making pastries together today (he's part of our pastry team and a very talented member at that). In addition to doing something I'm passionate about, working with family is one of the absolute best parts of my job.
Ryan says hi!! https://twitter.com/NormanLoveCandy/status/828960200539377664
Well what did your son say about randomly meeting 2 old friends that used to play games together?
He said he already knew and that he had already talked to them? He's much better at this than I am.
Sid, who's a good dog? Who's a good dog?
tail wagging intensifies
is willy wonka an accurate depiction of the candy industry?
100%, down to the chocolate rivers and oompah loompahs. It might as well have been a documentary.
Hi! Executive chef here. Just curious- what were you traveling to do 40 weeks out of the year?
Every time a new Ritz would open up I would fly out to help open their pastry kitchen - creating menus, hiring/training the staff, and overseeing all pastry operations until everything was running smoothly, then it was rinse & repeat. Very hectic but I got to travel to some amazing places.
That sounds awesome! Glad you've been able to find stability and success in the chocolate business!
Thank you chef!!
Why do you think there's a variation of Labrador retrievers we call "chocolate"? Isn't that just a bit sadistic to name an animal after something that will kill them?
So much more than a bit. These are the types of questions that keep me up at night.
My mom used to mail me your chocolates when I lived in Europe, but they rarely made the trip intact. How should we have packaged them? I may have some requests from the former roommates.
Thank you for making such delicious things!
Thank YOU for supporting us - the novelty seriously never wears off of hearing that people like our product!
If I had a good answer for that we'd definitely be looking to expand internationally but shipping a highly perishable product is tough. I think your best bet would be to follow our process for shipping to the geographical extremes of the US (Hawaii, Alaska, and, for us, California): get an insulated box, fill with as many freezer packs as you can afford to pay for, and ship it as quickly as possible. It won't be very cheap but after 2 days the packs start to melt, putting your chocolate in jeopardy. This is why we push every customer to select 2 day/overnight shipping - paying expensive shipping fees isn't fun, but melted chocolate is definitely worse.
What is the most delicious confection you have made?
My favorite individual piece is definitely our Tahitian salted caramel. As far as cakes/entremets go, any combination of chocolate and hazelnut. Can't go wrong.
Whats your favourite commercial store bought sweet?
Not exactly a "store," but I'll take a Dairy Queen cheesecake blizzard over just about anything
I want the most decadent piece of chocolate in the world. Where does it come from?
Unbiased answer: Jacques Torres in NYC. Amazing talented chef and his product is insanely good.
How does one innovate in the chocolate business? Isn't it all, more or less, just chocolate? I understand you can always put things in the chocolate (crunchy, chewy, fruity elements, etc.) or make varying degrees of dark chocolate, but how did you set your chocolate apart from the zillions of other chocolates out there?
Isn't it all, more or less, just chocolate?
That's definitely true to an extent, but when we started our company there were very few people paying as much attention to aesthetic appeal as they were to taste. I've always had a passion for artistry and used that to initially make my chocolate stand apart - handpainting designs on pieces, using bright colors instead of various shades of brown, toying around with different moulds. Nowadays that's fairly par for the course, but back in 2001 it was something new and people responded really positively to it.
The other thing we pride ourselves on doing differently is omitting the use of preservatives. It really does make a difference!
Do you require heroic determination and an iron will in order to resist constantly "sampling" your own product?
After 16 years I've realized it's just not possible. I swear one of our head chocolatiers is on a mission to ruin every diet in the office. He comes in every day with a tray of some new chocolate covered something that we NEED to sample and I've yet to locate the willpower necessary to say no.
What percentage of cacao in dark chocolate do you consider the "sweet spot"?
Also obligatory rant. Reddit is confusing. This is a solid AMA so far but has few upvotes. Meanwhile the tea AMA turned to a shit show and has many upvotes.
For me it's right around 75%, although I occasionally like the super bold stuff (we make a really good 88% that I'm quite fond of) - I'm a milk chocolate guy at heart though!
Why does american chocolate taste so bad compared to european?
It's all about the ingredients used. A lot like wine production. You can't get good wine out of bad grapes just like you can't get good chocolate out of bad cacao. There's a lot of great American chocolatiers who get this right, but I'm assuming the chocolate you're referring to comes from the ones who only care about their bottom line and chock their product full of excess sugar/artificial ingredients/etc.
Brit here. Hershey's tastes very waxy to me and smells like vomit. I know that it isn't quality chocolate but what's the deal with the smell and taste?
I'm a Neapolitan, customer and huge fan Norman! Thanks for the AMA. Also, your frozen delights don't get the credit they deserve in this AMA, big ups buddy!
Butyric acid is a byproduct compound formed from the anaerobic fermentation of milk fats. Incidentally, cheap chocolates use more of milk fats by volume, that's why their waxy AND why they have that almost noticeably "off" scent to them. The name comes from butter since this is where the compound was initially isolated from.
My organic chemistry teacher synthesized this in a lab and proceeded to break the vile it was in. The human nose is incredably attuned to this smell since it's a dead giveaway to rotten milk products- that anerobic fermentation aluded to above. Parts per billion are noticable, so when he broke it in a lab he pretty much broke the lab to lol. Hope that helps.
Thank you so much! Glad there's some love for our gelato :)
I really don't know! That metallic-y taste?
Would you ever consider making cannabis infused chocolates?
P.S. the dark chocolate bars are my favorite affordable treat, but you create some DREAMY truffles! A perk to southwest Florida!
Any favorite dark bar?? I'm a really big fan of our raspberry inclusion bar myself.
And I've never really thought about it, but I know medical cannabis products have helped a lot of people deal with serious illnesses which would be the attraction for me.
If it were legal here I’d certainly consider it, although I don’t know the first thing about cooking with cannabis so I’m sure there’d have to be a lot of trial and error involved to find a ratio that tasted good and still provided all the medical benefits.
What is the toughest part about opening a shoppe/market?
For me it was making the jump from having chocolate as a side project to my actual career. When it was a small scale operation I could run it pretty much from the comfort of my home (and later a tiny medical building turned kitchen); when things took off and I'd outgrown that, getting all the infrastructure in place was really daunting. Securing a production facility, outfitting it with all the necessary equipment, finding qualified staff to help me, and getting big time suppliers to take me seriously was tough. I was lucky to have made a lot of connections during my time at the Ritz that helped me immensely along the way, but making that transition was still incredibly difficult, especially with no guarantee of success.
How did you figure out initially what to charge for your chocolates? I have been making chocolates as a hobby for years, and this year I had people approach me to ask how much I'd charge for them. I was stumped as to how to price them. Congratulations on 15 years of working for yourself!
this year I had people approach me to ask how much I'd charge for them
Sounds like you're doing something right! It's dependent on a lot of factors- # of pieces, your relationship to the person, how much the ingredients will cost, etc. With my experience as an executive pastry chef I had a pretty good idea what "average prices" were, and I knew that I was making a better than average product and priced accordingly.
What is your Alma Matter and how big of a role has it played in your success? Also as someone who wants to own a restaurant one day, what advice would you give to me or anyone looking to enter into the hospitality/ foodservice industry?
I only made it through about a week of community college before realizing it wasn't for me, but I owe all my professional success to the years I spent studying pastry in Paris prior to working at the Ritz. I would never have grown as a chef if I hadn't had that opportunity to learn from some of the most talented pastry chefs in world.
I hate myself for missing your lecture at FSW. Will you be doing it again?
That was a great night. I don't have anything scheduled at the moment but would certainly be interested in doing something similar in the future.
Well at least I can always stop by for lunch again at your shop.
Please do! We're obviously known for chocolate but I'm really proud of the savory dishes we do for lunch at our gelato shop.
You're the guy who basically gets DDOS'd every time TotalBiscuit mentions your site on his stream right?
TotalBiscuit has crashed our site SO many times! Is he doing okay??
His last tweet regarding his health mentioned shrinkage and upcoming surgery.
He was just off on that metal cruise also. Overall he seems much improved.
I'm really glad to hear it. We've never met but he seems like a really nice guy. Wishing him all the best.
What's the last thing you had wrapped in bacon?
Dates at one of my favorite Fort Myers restaurants Cru. One of my favorite salty/sweet pairings.
Oh man I am so jealous! Can you imagine anything more wonderful than to work with chocolate? All the smells, all the creativity, the artfulness of the beautiful little chocolates. Is it as wonderful as I imagine? Or is it a drudge like running any other business? Or is it all shitty employees, boring bookkeeping and inventory, chocolate gets old, too many long days and not enough time off?
I haven't ran any other business, but I still have the passion for chocolate/pastry/dessert that I did when I first started out in this business. There's long days and the monotonous essential tasks that you'll find in any field, but every day I have the chance to create - and not just to create, but to create something that makes people happy. FOOD! So yes, there are aspects that are as boring as you can imagine, the conference calls, haggling with suppliers and all that, and there's also the fact that I get to smell fresh baked croissants every day and that I have the luxury of spending hours in the kitchen tinkering with new recipes for however long I like. And as far as employees go, ours could not be more talented, hardworking, or wonderful to be around. They're awesome.
One of my clients sends me a box of your chocolates for Christmas every year. I really look forward to it.
So glad to hear it! Any favorite pieces?
How is it, transiting from a chef under an employer to running your own business?
It's surreal. I think everyone can relate to working a job and feeling like "I could do this myself" (not that I thought I could outdo the Ritz or anything, but that I could be successful in the chocolate/pastry world on my own merit), but actually trying to do it is a completely different beast. You don't have the stability that regular employment provides, you have only yourself to blame for any failures, and instead of just worrying about doing your job you're now chef/president/CEO/hiring manager all rolled into one. There's obviously a lot more stress involved, but there's a lot more reward too - and nothing makes you work harder than remembering it's your name on the building and no one elses.
Godfather I. Or II. Never III.
Sid, how does it feel to be surrounded by delicious chocolate all day and not be able to eat it?
Ignorance is bliss. Sid spends the day basking in the sun in our office, completely unaware that we're producing thousands of chocolates next door.
Have never tried or heard of your brand, although I lived in Tampa, FL. for 10 years. I am wondering what you would suggest as my first taste of your product? I saw you like the salted caramel but I am more of a fan of mint chocolates, or plain chocolate flavors.
I am going in for a c-section on the 21st, I may be able to talk SO into getting me a taste! Unless, of course, you'll ship me a free sample. 0:-)
Congratulations!! Boy or girl? My first granddaughter was born a few weeks ago!
Message me after the Valentine's Day insanity winds down and I'll see what I can do! I'd recommend either our chocolate bars (simple but good flavors like cookies n cream, turtle, etc) or if you're feeling a bit more adventurous one of our signature boxes. These chocolates are kind of our calling card, and while the flavors are a bit more exotic (we have pieces like white chocolate raspberry and tiramisu, but also classics like peanut butter cup & milk chocolate - also a PB&J piece that I eat about 5 of a day) they really help you get a sense of what we do as a company. Not every piece is for everyone, but I'm confident you'd find something you'd like!
Norman! Dose the smell of chocolates make you feel sick after working with chocolate for 16 years?
Are you insane?!
Norman! You're probably not going to see this, but I used to play WoW with your son, we had a guild together.... We were awesome! For my birthday one year he sent me some of your delicious chocolates. I don't have a question, but every time I see your name I think of that really fun period of my life. Thank you for the chocolates on my birthday. My husband and I still recite the inside jokes we had with Ryan, tell him Saty and Torusk say hi!!! And since I have to have a question: what's your favorite part about your job?
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