Nathaniel Izard knew from a young age that he wanted to start a company, so it was no big surprise when three years ago, at age 22, he got involved in the high-quality chocolate market. What started as an experiment has become a successful venture in a craft niche.
Izard Chocolate began in Nathaniel's kitchen, where he produced very small batches with tabletop equipment. From there, he began selling at the Hillcrest Farmer's Market. During that brief interlude, Nathaniel was able to determine there was a market in Little Rock for high-quality chocolate. "We use our palates to create a product, then we test it on the public. If they like it, we continue to do it, if they don’t, well, obviously that one didn’t work out, so let’s move on.” Well, the market liked it.
Izard doesn't just try things out and hope they work—they've put a huge amount of work into developing roast profiles. Roasting is what gives cacao its chocolatey flavor, so if you don't roast the cacao, you don't get chocolate. The roasting process is similar to roasting coffee, but there are about fifteen more steps before it's finished—something of which most people aren't aware. To help consumers learn, Nathaniel spends a lot of time talking with customers about their product and the complexities behind its production.
While many companies use social entrepreneurship as a way to sell their product, Nathaniel sees making ethical choices as crucial to doing good business. "I'm about making a positive change in the world, I just don't see it in ad campaigns. If we buy [cacao] from a company that goes to the farms and checks out the processes to ensure people are being treated well, and therefore our cost is higher, we can sleep at night."
As a lifelong chocolate lover, the tour of Izard's combined production facility/retail space was magical—just like their product. The Sea Salt Caramels were exactly what they sound like—smooth chocolate truffles with good salt and caramel. They also offer blended bars with additives like coffee, sea salt, and almond. But their single-origin chocolate bars, such as their current selections from Haiti, the Dominican Republican, and Belize, allow consumers to try different varieties and note the differences—similar to how wine tasting is done. With tasting guidance from Nathaniel, I was amazed to find the Belize variety had such strong cherry notes I initially assumed it had added cherry.
If you haven't yet sampled some of Izard's Chocolate, swing by. Nathaniel or his sister, Emily, who works in the shop alongside her brother, will be happy to chat about how chocolate is made and share samples to demonstrate how artfully it can be done.