Tastemaking: Haute Chocolate
All glossy black shelving and sexy spotlights, Hotel Chocolat could have been mistaken for a high-end clothing boutique when it strutted onto Newbury Street this September. The chic vibe goes beyond the décor, though: This British confectioner deals in decidedly stylish wares, like gorgeously marbled praline slabs and chocolate bars studded with pink peppercorns.
The Willy-Wonka-meets-Stella-McCartney angle has been good for buzz, and Hotel Chocolat—which is making its U.S. debut here—may need it. Just blocks away, Teuscher and Lindt vend luxury Swiss chocolates, while South End shops ChocoLee and Aroa turn out handcrafted foodie treats (e.g., candy filled with fig preserves and goat cheese). Factor in this summer’s failure of French outpost Richart in Copley Place, and a not-so-sweet question arises: Does Boston have the appetite for yet another pricey chocolate shop?
Hotel Chocolat CEO Nicki Doggart believes it does. "Boston wrapped up everything we were looking for in quite a nice package: very cosmopolitan, very European, with a good cross-section of tourists and students," she says. Just as crucial, she says, "people here have a higher level of consciousness regarding where their food comes from." That bodes well for Hotel Chocolat’s emphasis on "bean-to-bar" sourcing (a concept, by the way, highlighted in its by-appointment-only tasting room).
Local competitors seem to be taking the British invasion in stride. "It’s a different niche," says Paula Barth, whose recently expanded Beacon Hill Chocolates imports the sweets supplied to Belgian royalty, among other top-shelf brands. And ChocoLee owner Lee Napoli finds cause for optimism in the Hub’s increasingly gourmet palate. "People’s tastes have become more educated," she says. "It’s not a milk chocolate world anymore."