Guittard Chocolate Company is a Bay Area based chocolate maker celebrated for crafting world-class chocolate based on traditional French methods. Founded in San Francisco in 1868, Guittard is the oldest continuously owned and operated family chocolate-making business in the United States.
The Growth of a Family Business
In the 1850s, Etienne Guittard embarked on the arduous journey from Tournus, France, to San Francisco in search of gold. An experienced chocolate maker, Etienne had brought French chocolate to trade for mining supplies but soon discovered that newly rich miners were willing to pay top dollar for fine chocolate. With a new plan, Etienne sailed back to Tournus where he worked in his uncle’s chocolate factory until he could afford to buy his own chocolate making equipment. In 1868, he returned to San Francisco and opened Guittard Chocolate on Sansome Street, selling chocolate as well as coffee, tea and spices.
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Horace C. Guittard succeeded his father Etienne in 1899 and in 1906 the great earthquake destroyed the thriving family business along with most of San Francisco. Undaunted, Horace moved the company to a temporary location on Commercial Street while rebuilding the factory on Main Street near the Embarcadero.
Horace’s son Horace A. became the next president of the company in 1950 and relocated the company to Burlingame in 1955 where it continues to be one of the leading suppliers of fine chocolate to professionals in the pastry, confectionery and ice cream trades. While Horace A. was instrumental in bringing the company into the era of automation, he continued to operated in the Old World tradition.
Horace A.’s son Gary joined the family business in 1975 and was put in charge of developing specialty chocolates. He traveled abroad extensively, soaking up every nuance of the chocolate making business. By 1989, when he became President and CEO of Guittard, he fully understood that chocolate making is an art as well as a science – complex and demanding, requiring timeless effort throughout the process, from the farmer through to the factory.
An advocate for preserving and elevating the quality of chocolate, Gary sounded the alarm in 2007 with a grass roots group and petition called “Don’t Mess with Our Chocolate,” when it became apparent that industrial confectioners were petitioning the FDA to replace cocoa butter with cheaper fats and still call the resulting product “chocolate.” His petition made international news, rallied opposing forces and succeeded in its mission. The FDA now states that only chocolates made with cocoa butter and no other fats may be labeled “chocolate.”
Gary currently serves on the executive committee of the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Initiative, a partnership between the Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) and the USDA’s Agricultural Research Services (USDA-ARS) to create the first genotype map with a focus on flavor cacao tress. Through HCP, Gary hopes to shine a light on the threat to heirloom and native trees that produce fine-flavor beans, and reverse the trend of growers replacing their heirloom and native trees with low-flavor, high-yield and disease resistant varieties.
Gary is joined by the fifth generation of the family including his daughter Amy who is responsible for marketing and his nephew Clark who oversees international sales.
Guittard Chocolate Company is one of the few chocolate makers that works directly with growers, long before harvest. In addition to paying a premium for its cacao, an expert team at Guittard travels the world, working closely with growers, many of whom they’ve known and worked with for years, to assess beans. Whether working with the bold and traditional, or the unique flavors and characteristics of rare heirloom cacao varieties, Gary and his sourcing team are constantly searching for beans that will create new and exciting chocolate experiences.
The Process of Making Great Chocolate
The painstaking process of transforming dried cacao beans into fine chocolate is done in Guittard’s Burlingame facility where cherished recipes are used and new recipes are developed; where generations-old techniques are still in use alongside the scientific rigor of the company’s R&D department that precisely determines the ideal roast, conch and temper to bring out the full potential of each variety or blend of cacao.
Gary and his team are there every step of the way. Gary says, “we let the cocoa beans tell us how they want to be processed.”