The Great Recession of 2008 delivered a gut-wrenching blow to many people’s lives. Businesses failed, homes were lost, relationships shattered, marriages destroyed, careers upended, and in some cases, lives ruined. For one journalist, however, the economic downturn propelled her from being a correspondent to a chocolatier.
Head Chocolatier Robyn Dochterman of St. Croix Chocolate Co. in Marine on St. Croix, Minn., worked for the Minneapolis Star Tribune as a website editor and reporter for 12 years. When the downturn hit the paper in the fall of 2008, Dochterman saw an opportunity for a creative career change.
Having written some blogs on gardening and food, the writer-turned-wannabe artisan tried her hand at baking, cheesemaking, and finally chocolate.
It was “the perfect balance of science and art” she says in a video on the company’s website.
Upon taking courses and seminars with European-trained chocolatiers in Chicago and Las Vegas, she — together with Deidre Pope, a former non-profit group administrator — opened up a chocolate shop in a “little brown house” in Marine on St. Croix in 2010.
Dochterman started making chocolates using local ingredients and fine chocolate techniques. Pope took care of business and operational needs. Known for foraging wild grapes, blackberries and rhubarb as well as taking advantage of fresh milk, maple syrup and honey available from local suppliers, Dochterman soon developed a following for “sensuous, and deliciously-dreamy flavors” present in her chocolates
Growing acclaim propelled the company to move its retail operations into a larger space on Judd Street (the town’s Main Street).
If you were stranded on a deserted island with only one kind of candy, what would it be?
The 10-year-old in me is yelling “Butterfinger, Butterfinger!”
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Our neighbor was an artist and I wanted to be an artist too because she saw the world differently than people I knew, and it really opened my eyes to what was possible. But I also wanted to be the first woman to play major league baseball.
What issues concern you the most about the confectionery industry and why?
I’ve been watching to see if I can tell how craft chocolate makers fit into the overall industry. Can they follow the lead of craft beer makers and get a significant segment of consumers to appreciate how they approach their craft? At our shop, we’re trying an intermediate step, introducing our customers to chocolates with interesting origins stories.
What’s the last book you’ve read?
The most recent book I’ve read is “Lickerland: Asian-Accented Desserts by Jason Licker.” I see Asian flavors and influences absolutely everywhere in confections and pastry now, and his book gave me a little bit of context for that, in a very accessible way.
If given the chance to choose anyone, with whom would you like to collaborate?
This is a tough question. My first thought is Francisco Migoya, or Melissa Coppel. Frankly, though, both of those people have such a strong signature style. So I might choose Bill Brown of William Dean Chocolates. He’s such a wonderful guy. I feel like he’s my big brother in the chocolate family.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Jean Marie Auboine said in a class I took that when working with chocolate, every step is the most important step. I really understood it when he said it.
What excites you about your job?
Probably, the most exciting thing about my job is seeing a customer try a new flavor. When their eyes close, I know they are savoring what they are tasting and that they’re fully experiencing what I’ve created. That satisfaction, that few seconds when time stops… there’s nothing more exciting than that to me.