When South Africa meets Southern California, it turns out that the end result is fine chocolate.
Richard Pascall studied geology at the University of Cape Town, worked for DeBeers (the famous diamond-mining company), spent a year-and-a-half on a 30’ sailboat in the Caribbean, and with a $500 loan started a belt-manufacturing company in his garage. He built the company very successfully and sold it in 2006, about the time he met Karen. Interestingly enough, contacts and experience he derived from the belt company are now serving him in the chocolate business.
Karen Webster was born and raised in Southern California. College didn’t suit, so she went to live on a kibbutz in Israel. “Everybody else wanted to work outside. I loved working in the kitchen. It’s Jewish tradition to serve cake at the Friday evening meal that begins the Sabbath. A friend asked me to bake a cake for his family. Next thing, I was making cakes for everyone’s Friday night dinner. I started experimenting and having a lot of fun with it.”
After a year-and-a-half Karen knew exactly what she wanted to do: get a degree in pastry arts at Johnson and Wales Culinary Institute in Rhode Island. Her enthusiasm led her to many culinary adventures.
“At my first job, at the Bellagio Hotel in LA, I worked under an amazing pastry chef, who taught me so much. Then I was prepared to go to the Lenôtre School in Paris. I loved pulled and blown sugar, and Chef Jacques Auber said I should try to get lessons from Chef Jean Pierre Tholoniat, the master of pulled sugar, who had a little chocolate shop in Paris. It turned out that he was thrilled that an American girl knew about him and wanted to learn from him.”
Back in Los Angeles following a stint as the pastry chef at Trumps Restaurant, and a professional detour into horses, Karen says she started to become aware of “how food made me feel.” She started a small raw food business making raw meals for people at the yoga school she went to.
When she and Richard met, they started a bottled tea company, which they called Tonic Scene. The tea didn’t turn out to be a fit for them, but in the course of talking with a Whole Foods buyer, Karen mentioned her love of raw food and asked what categories of raw food were particularly successful. The buyer said “chocolate,” and Karen had come full circle.
With her training and experience, Karen knew she could make spectacular raw chocolates, so Tonic Scene became a raw chocolate bar company. She was in her element, and the products took off. Then Richard convinced her to also do a “regular” chocolate line, and she agreed, provided she could source the best ingredients and make the chocolate completely from scratch. The new line was named Cocoaparlor. “I can’t compromise the flavor. Imagine if people compare my chocolate -- our Cocoaparlor line has to be the best.”
Karen and Richard complement each other. He describes her as a “true foodie” and she’s is in charge of making the products; he is in charge of the business elements. “Interestingly enough,” Richard says, “We do a lot of business with Japan, and I’m using my knowledge of transport logistics and all my old customs and freight brokers.”
True to their Southern California location, “In the evening before the sun goes down, we walk the dogs and then we love to go surfing at San Onofre. But now there is a new priority that is cutting into our surfing time – our retail shop.”
Cocoaparlor is located in a beautiful area in Laguna Niguel near the Ritz Carlton and Montage hotels. A large wholesale kitchen in back, permits them to sell conched chocolates for other chocolate makers to use, along with their own chocolate bars and other chocolate specialties.
Unlike the cobbler whose kids have no shoes, these are two people in the chocolate business who eat their chocolate every day.