Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Chuck Siegel: The Willy Wonka of Emeryville

UPDATE: This Emeryville factory has closed, and Charles Chocolates reopened in the Westfield San Francisco Center. But that operations closed on 3/5/11.

This past Saturday I went to one of the more popular chocolate stores in the Bay Area, Charles Chocolates in Emeryville, which was hosting an open house to mark the one-year anniversary of its chocolate café.

The factory store is owned by Chuck Siegel, who I call the Willy Wonka of Emeryville in this post because he has mad skills when it comes to chocolate and because he attracted a whole slew of adults and kids by giving out tons and tons of free chocolate. That’s right, free. For five hours. Tons of them.

Charles Chocolates is out there in Emeryville surrounded mostly by condominiums and businesses like Pixar. When I arrived after 3 p.m., its outdoor area was decorated with festive balloons and a table where kids were decorating their own chocolate lollipops.

Off to the side—mostly for the adults waiting for their kids—was a table filled with a variety of chocolate samples, from Siegel’s famous filled chocolate butterflies to his chocolate-coated nuts.

Inside a crowd of people packed the narrow café, which really didn’t look like a café on this day with all the chairs removed to make room for the crowd. Typically, you can enjoy a cup of hot chocolate while sitting along a counter behind a glass wall watching the workers in the factory making chocolates. On Saturday, everyone was crowded around Siegel, who was holding court as he talked about the finer points of chocolate making and designing. (And there were even more trays of chocolates all around this narrow passageway as well.)

I think it’s great that Siegel held the open house for the community. And I felt bad for him when I saw a few people who I would describe as chocolate hustlers taking advantage of Siegel’s generosity. These people had paper cups filled with chocolate samples and they walked away without purchasing any chocolates (on the Open House day, all chocolates were sold at a 10 percent discount).

I purchased a handful of my favorite: the Mojito hearts, which are these incredibly refreshing chocolate filled hearts that’s tart and sweet. I actually would have purchased some other chocolate flavors but the girl behind the counter wasn’t very helpful when I asked her about the Espresso Caramel, which I’ve never tried. She wouldn’t give me a taste test, which was so odd since there was free chocolate all over the place. Oh well, I was happy with my Mojito hearts, which I’m still eating as I’m writing this post.

The Web site says this open house may be an annual event. (Siegel also has a variety of other interesting chocolate events during other times of the year advertised on his site.) So save July as a time to check back for details of Charles Chocolates’ hopefully annual Open House. And buy some chocolates while you’re at it!

Charles Chocolates, 6529 Hollis St. (between 65th and 66th Streets), Emeryville. PH: 510.652.4412. Open daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.


Nila Rosa said...

wait.....free...and chocolate??

MMM! How did I miss this when I was in the bay area last month. I will definitely hit this up when I move out there.

Marni said...

I can attest to Charles Chocolates. They are some of the best chocolate in the world. You are so lucky to live near there and be able to visit the factory. I live in LA, but still manage always to have a stash hidden away in the back of my cupboard. Be sure to try the orange twigs...incredible.

Suenjca said...

Hi Ben -- How did I miss this? PLEASE give a heads-up when this comes around next year -- I'd love to go. Yum!