One of Michelle’s friends gave her a book on chocolate today, and flipping through it at home, all three of us stopped at one page of pictures with the identical reaction: the old Scharffen Berger plant in Berkeley! It wasn’t labeled but we knew it instantly. We took the tour there years ago, back when the founders, not Hershey, owned what was then a start-up. They were determined, with input from the wonderful Alice Medrich, to make the best chocolate in America. (And then later when one of the men was dying they sold out and the little factory got shut down and now Tcho in San Francisco is setting out to take the spot of best chocolate-maker in the country–superb chocolate, highly recommended.)
The tour guide showed us the room where a woman was deftly and quickly wrapping individual chocolate bars. By hand.
And there she was in that photo and we could tell you that the photo was shot from the doorway we saw her through and that that was the actual woman we’d seen. I wondered if I was remembering right but Richard and Michelle both confirmed, and besides, there had only ever been the one person doing that job, from what we remember from the tour.
They had actually just bought an automatic bar wrapping machine at the time but then found it didn’t fit through the door in the old 1907 building, although we found out later they managed it not long after.
And what a building: the ceiling was in brick. Curves of bricks. Note that brick crumbles in earthquakes and that this place had been finished the year after San Francisco’s big burning 1906 quake. How a big double S set up stayed up there… It has been one of life’s mysteries for me ever since.
Hershey’s promised not to compromise the quality, but there are definitely those of us who feel they did.
We have thought for some time that if I could just get to the Tcho factory tour without having to walk through a lot of sunlight to get to it, we’d be right on it–and I just got my push to go find out.
I wonder where their employees will be in a dozen years. I’m curious to know if they bought the Scharffen Berger wrapper machine that had been right across the Bay Bridge from them. And I hope that woman is working for Tcho’s now in product development, taste-testing after all those years of being surrounded by the aroma of the world’s best cocoa beans. She’s earned it.
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