If you’re a fan of locally made artisanal food, then you’ve likely heard of Indy’s Best Chocolate in Town. If you’ve had the pleasure of visiting the store – taking in the sights and smells (oh! the smells!!) on the 800th block of Mass Ave, you’ll be hard pressed to argue with the “best” moniker. Recently, we had the pleasure of catching up with Elizabeth Garber, owner of Best Chocolate in Town, to talk local sourcing, the business side of ‘small business’, and what cheese would be good to dip in chocolate.
Sidney Hoerter: How did the idea for Best Chocolate in Town come to you?
Elizabeth Garber: Well, all my best ideas usually come in the shower. *laughs *
I do like to think there’s a genetic culinary attribute that led me to create this business. My grandparents owned a diner in Muskegon, Michigan for about thirty years. My Aunt Ella and Uncle Bruno owned the local dairy. Back then you had to go to a dairy distributor to get milk and that’s how they formed a relationship–
SH: Wait… so they’re not actually your aunt and uncle?
EG: No, they’re just my godparents. We would call them “aunt” and “uncle” when we were growing up and the names stuck.
But my grandparents are my mom’s mother and father, they owned the diner when she was I child so I don’t have any living memory of it. My grandma was known for selling out of her sweet treats at the diner. Both of my grandparents locally sourced their food, because they had to, but that was some of my inspiration for doing that within my own business.
SH: What kinds of items do you source locally?
EG: Well, obviously you can’t grow cocoa beans near here, so that’s not something you can source locally. But our almond butter comes from Revival and most of the items we add for flavor are local—Sun King Wee Mac, Bee and Limelight Roasters, Lick Ice Cream, Gelato Da Vinci…
SH: You have an art and design degree, how has that played into your business?
EG: Yeah I did get a degree in art and design, but I also started a smaller, Girl Scout style version of this business in college. I created recipes inspired by grandmother’s recipes and others from my childhood, then I would have an order sheet and go around the neighborhood before Christmas time. During my winter break I would come home, make the product, and distribute. I realized, quickly, that 1) I love doing this, 2) that it could incorporate art and design to fulfill that need to be creative, and 3) I was starting to gain a consistent client base. So I created a business plan, because sometimes I’m able to tap into the left side of my brain, to start as a wholesale operation.
Technically this has been a business for nineteen years now, but people don’t know that because we’ve physically been at the Mass Ave location for only ten years.
I’ve looked at some old interview clippings from early on in my business where reporters ask me if I’ll continue to do this into my forties. I’m in my forties now—let me tell you—I don’t think I would have been able to start a business, like this, now. I was focused in my twenties and this was always on my mind.
SH: Was there something you wished you would have learned earlier on? Or something you would like to do differently?
EG: That’s tough to say, but with all small businesses, having a balance between work and personal life is something I wish I would have learned earlier on.
I do have to make sure I can pay the bills with my ideas. So if I really want to do something in the business I always check if the profit margins make sense first. Sometimes we let our creativity take control, but if you’re in a business you have to think about the money at some point.
SH: How has Indy inspired you in your journey?
EG: I lived on Mass Ave. for a bit and when I was looking for retail space I realized how much this area had changed and that inspired me to put my roots down here. Being able to watch the area evolve, even from my childhood, was inspiring.
SH: Do you think everything is better dipped in chocolate?
EG: Pretty much. I’ve dipped cheese in chocolate, it was a brie. I still want to experiment with this because I think the right kind of cheese could work really well in chocolate—maybe a parmesan or gruyere…
Photography by Aubrey Smith