Happy 10th birthday, Poco Dolce. This artisan chocolate and confection business is the brainchild of San Francisco resident Kathy Wiley, who makes bittersweet chocolate tiles, bars, brittle, toffees and other delights – while definitely living up to the company mission of being on “the savory side of sweet.” Poco Dolce’s product line stands out each year at the ginormous NASFT Fancy Food Show, and Wiley’s creations are among my favorite things to give or receive. Peter Perez, Associate Marketing Director, Food & Drink / Art Publishing of Chronicle Books, is a friend of Wiley’s and “addicted fanboy of her tiles.” The two met at the Poco Dolce booth at the Fancy Food show in 2006, and realized they are both alums of Williams-Sonoma corporate. Perez, an avowed choco-obsessive (who reportedly has a collection of fine chocolate bar wrappers in his office), ably described the local chocolate scene for me:
“What the Bay Area does have at this stage is one of the largest concentrations of bean-to-bar and confection makers of the highest order, so for obsessive groupies like me, it’s a golden age to be in the midst of Poco Dolce, Dandelion, Recchiuti, Kika’s Treats, Cocoa Delice, NeoCocoa, along with grandparent Guittard.”
Considering Poco Dolce’s place in the chocolate scene, I caught up with Wiley to see what business is like, as well as what her holiday faves are. Her comments have been edited for clarity.
Bay Area Bites: What are your suggestions for celebrating the holidays? How will you celebrate?
Wiley: We’ll be doing a couple of new baskets, with an assortment of gifts, which is fun. For parties, I love the chocolate pumpkin ($12) and turkey ($40). I will one hundred percent have the chocolate turkey on the table. I’m trying to figure out how to get the turkey in my suitcase to bring to Chicago for Thanksgiving.
At the end of the holiday meal, I like to have double shot espresso tiles, which are like an instant Irish coffee. We originally made bonbons with Irish cream, whiskey and a stout. Those became so popular, and we were asked to participate in two whiskey shows here in San Francisco. So now we have an assorted whiskey box; we used a smoky whiskey, a peaty one and threw in Bourbon.
Our sea salt caramels are popular and we’re doing an assorted sea salt box with Himalayan pink salt, rosemary sea salt, balsamic and smoked Serrano sea salt. That last one is really exciting and I love a little heat; there’s something spicy in each of our lines.
Foodwise, on Christmas Eve, there will be a seafood celebration. On Christmas Day, I host at my house. I love to cook.
Bay Area Bites: You have mint hot drinking chocolate. What else is new?
Wiley: Our drinking chocolate is fairly new. We also have holiday-themed mint snowballs, that are like a mint meltaway, made with mint-infused chocolate ganache. Staff member Albert Moriguchi came up with a cranberry pumpkin seed tile when I was out one day, a seasonal treat. Champagne truffles are new, too.
For the novelty items, we have three different businesses to sell them: online, our product shop in San Francisco and our wholesale accounts, which is our bread and butter. It’s fun to have other areas to play around with.
Bay Area Bites: What are the best and worst things about working with chocolate and selling a food product?
Wiley: The best: chocolate always makes people smile. You can’t ask for more than that. The toughest thing asides from my waistline (laughs)? Chocolate is so effected by temperature. Customers want me to send it to them, and I have to tell them, the truth is if you set that in the sun, chocolate won’t care and it will be ruined.
Bay Area Bites: Where do you eat and drink when you aren’t working?
Wiley: I’ve had be so frugal to build the business, so I don’t go out to high-end places. I like to go to ethnic restaurants and try something new. I like neighborhood spots: Starbelly, La Ciccia, Blackbird and the Mini Bar for drinks.
Bay Area Bites: Who are your mentors?
Wiley: I did have someone help me in the beginning. It’s always so interesting being 10 years down the road. I’m a part of NASFT and the Suppliers Council. There is a new mentoring program, and I’m matched up with Dave Hirschkop from Dave’s Gourmet. He’s been around 10 years longer, and has grown his business.
I’m also a part of the Count Me In org, which tries to promote women’s businesses by trying to get them above the one million dollar mark.
Bay Area Bites: I see you every year at the NASFT Fancy Food show here. What’s that show experience like?
Wiley: I love it. Thankfully I’m not a rookie. Basically we’ve got the show routine down pretty well and have a booth. We’re always learning, and walk the floor to see what we can do better. We do go to the New York show every couple years. It’s huge and almost so much that you don’t get to walk around. For us, the New York show is more of a press show. Here at the San Francisco show, we talk to our current accounts.