“So your bar is there. You have to have that and give me an appraisal,” says Clare. “You can be honest,” she adds.
That’s a terrible idea, Clare, I think to myself. I‘m a hopeless chocolate snob. ‘Dairy-free milk chocolate’? How is that even possible?
As Clare herself admits, when you say the word vegan, people assume it’s going to be horrible. She reckons that they’re thinking: ‘Oh my God, it probably tastes like sawdust!’ But guess what? This Chocolatey Clare Salted Peanut bar tastes great.
It’s not too sweet and icky like lots of non-milk milk chocolate. Not too pale and wishy-washy. This milk chocolate has a hefty 54% cocoa content, so it’s properly chocolatey. “It’s delicious, Clare,” I tell her, truthfully. What a relief!
Chocolatey Clare’s food startup journey
From modest beginnings and a capital investment of under €5,000, Clare has mastered the art of organic, vegan chocolate-making – along with a lot of other collateral skills.
From sourcing FSC-certified packaging printed with vegetable-based inks from Priory Printing to identifying the best salted peanuts (turns out its Dublin’s own Manhattan brand), Clare has come a long way.
Her friend, Abraham Phelan of the Chester Beatty Library’s Silk Road Café, rents out his cookery school’s kitchen for the actual manufacturing. Clare is quick to acknowledge the advice she’s received from other chocolate makers too, including Darren O’Connor of Magic Mayan and Shana Wilkie of Wilkie’s Chocolate.
When Dublin.ie spoke to Clare, a year into her new career, her role in the business was still very much hands-on – in the most literal sense.
From tempering the chocolate to folding the packs and adding the best-before dates to every single bar, it doesn’t get more artisanal than this.
A personally inspired startup
Clare and her husband have been vegetarians for well over 30 years. Her sons have also been vegetarian since they were born. Then, about eight years ago, they all began looking into the dairy industry.
“It was niggling at me to be honest with you,” says Clare. “And once we looked into the practices and the realities of it – it’s possibly even more cruel than the meat industry – we decided to become vegan.”
However, the problem was that Clare was a big lover of milk chocolate. And, when she gave up dairy, she couldn’t find any dairy-free alternatives that she truly enjoyed.
There’s a very direct link between our food choices and the state of the place – and the state of ourselves.
“I do like dark chocolate, but I can’t say I love it,” she says. “I don’t get that ‘uhhmm… I’ve had chocolate’ feeling! I did try some dairy-free vegan chocolate. A lot of them use rice milk and I found those ones very sweet. Some of the varieties I found just tasted like cheap chocolate – like the Easter eggs we used to get when we were kids.”
So that is the gap in the market – and her diet – that she is trying to fill.
Time for a change
Clare has had three careers so far. She started her working life in the 80s as a German translator of technical documentation.
For years, she had her own business doing that. “I loved working for myself,” she says.
Then, after her second son came along in 2002, she wanted to do something else. So she became a volunteer adult literacy tutor. She went on to work professionally in this area for ten years, training tutors and organising classes.
Because we make it from scratch, we can put whatever we want into it.
Then, once again, she decided it was time for a change. That’s when Chocolatey Clare came about.
Clare has always been a good cook, which came in handy when the whole family went vegan. “I’ve always had a good eye for flavours,” she says. “When we went vegan it was interesting – I just discovered a whole new set of ingredients that I hadn’t even noticed before.”
Some of my friends were saying: ‘You know, that’s gorgeous. I’d buy that’.
That’s when she started making her own vegan chocolate in search of that ‘uhhmm… I’ve had chocolate’ feeling. Soon, she succeeded – and people quickly took notice.
“I was making the chocolate at home, just for the family, and some of my friends were saying: ‘You know, that’s gorgeous. I’d buy that’.”
A well-timed startup
In the early days of Chocolatey Clare, Clare noticed that other people were changing their diets too. She believes they’re becoming more informed with the advent of Netflix documentaries and the likes.
“They’re realising that there’s a very direct link between our food choices and the state of the place – and the state of ourselves,” she says. “The planet, the seas, the polar ice caps, climate change – it can all be linked to our food choices.”
That’s why Clare knows exactly where all her ingredients are coming from.
“I buy the cocoa ingredients – that’s the raw organic cocoa butter and the cocoa powder – from a Fairtrade co-op in Peru,” she says. “And then I use a raw, organic, unrefined cane sugar and organic, freeze-dried coconut milk powder and an organic vanilla powder.”
And that’s just the ingredients in the actual chocolate.
Next, she decides what extra ingredients to add to it. Salted peanut, raspberry, mint crème and lemon crunch are just a few of the flavours she offers.
“Because we make it from scratch, we can put whatever we want into it – which is fantastic,” she says.
To find out more about Chocolatey Clare or the location of your nearest stockist, head to her online store.