by Eric Ginsburg
For Brent Peters, working in a “visible factory” is a little bit like living in a fishbowl. He and his wife Dawn opened Black Mountain Chocolate’s production facility on the “northern vanguard” of Trade Street a month ago, in a repurposed building that used to be a tobacco warehouse. Since then, countless people have glanced into their workplace from the street, and kids have pressed their faces up against the glass, enraptured by the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory aspect of the whole thing.
That openness is part of what the Peters were looking for, and each room in the facility has a large window allowing people to see most of the process.
Megan, the pastry chef and one of the Peters’ daughters, has a small space in the kitchen where she can slip out of sight, she joked.
Brent doesn’t mind, standing by several 150-pound bags of cocoa beans, some dark chocolate smeared on the sleeve of his three-quarter-sleeve shirt. Sure, it’s serious business cranking out about 14,000 chocolate bars a year to more than 75 stores carrying their product, let alone all of the other tiny miracles Megan churns out, but he is clearly having fun.
Maybe that’s because Brent kinda always thought he should be doing this. As a college student in Kansas City, he worked at a small chocolate shop to pay his way through school, but he remembers making the shift to a seemingly more financially responsible focus. He buckled down and became a lawyer.
Brent, who still works part time as an attorney, and Dawn, a former elementary educator, were looking for “the second act” after raising three daughters. They had lived in Winston-Salem for 22 years, downtown for the last five, and decided to pursue chocolate seriously.
“It’s strange how our detours have helped us in different ways,” Megan said, noting that several other family members are involved in different aspects of the company based on their varied skills.
In a serendipitous turn of events, a Facebook conversation with the owner of Black Mountain Chocolate turned into a business deal, and the couple bought the company last year. Since it started in 2007, the small-batch North Carolina chocolate company had developed a strong base for the Peters to build on, and they have continued to use the same fair-trade and organic Hispaniola cocoa beans from the Dominican Republic.
“This whole thing is a hobby that got out of control,” Brent laughed.
At the North Trade Street facility, a steady stream of people sample five different chocolate bars cut into squares, and order other treats including macaroons and chocolate croissants, while drinking chocolate.
There’s been quite a buzz in Winston-Salem since the Peters relocated the majority of the company’s production to the Camel City — one that is justified by the range and quality of offerings at Black Mountain Chocolate. But the Peters are anxious for other businesses to open in their complex and draw more foot traffic, particularly a planned distillery.
When it does, Megan hopes to partner for a new ingredient in her moonshine truffle. Her creations already include ingredients from several other local businesses, including Chad’s Chai based in Winston-Salem. And though the Peters are continuing much of what they inherited from the previous owner when they bought the company, everything Megan contributes is a bonus.
She could make the gelato they sell if she had the time, Megan said, but as it is she already produces an impressive spread of things that complement the chocolate, including homemade marshmallows.
The milk chocolate bar, made with goat’s milk, is Brent’s favorite, though it’s hard to argue with the sea salt, espresso or other bars.
Black Mountain Chocolate marked one month since it opened on Trade Street last week — though a shop already existed in Reynolda Village — and after a tour of the factory Brent asked to finish talking outside. Chocolate production doesn’t allow for much time outdoors, he explained, exchanging a knowing look with Megan about the long hours the family is putting in.
But Brent was smiling as he said it, and he quickly shifted to talking about how they are already talking about organizing a chocolate-making class and food-pairing event, a glint of excitement in his eyes.
Black Mountain Chocolate offers tours and tastings on Saturday mornings. Find more information at blackmountainchocolate.com or visit 732 N. Trade St., W-S.