Stafford's Famous Chocolates in Porterville
Sweet DreamsDecember 2014
By Candace Feely
Photos: Christi Canafax
Behind the counter at Stafford’s Famous Chocolates, the shop hums with the steady work of chocolate-making. You’ll find no conveyer belts or massive machines churning out truffles, though. People – chocolatiers – craft each piece one by one, hand-cutting and hand-dipping with the skill of an artist. Instead of a painting, they are creating a red wine truffle, an old-fashioned pecan turtle or something truly spectacular, like the famed Ooey Gooey Bar, a combination of marshmallow, peanut butter and caramel dipped in chocolate and topped with nuts.
“I learned from scratch,” says Benjamin Taylor, part owner and business manager, reflecting on his first year in the family-owned shop. “It took me awhile. It’s motion: learning how to dip, learning how to cut. There is a craft or art to it. I love that aspect of it.”
Much like Willy Wonka said about his chocolate waterfall, “It’s the only way to do it properly! The only way!”
Taylor, who holds degrees in business and economics, never thought he’d be in the business of sweets. In 2011, his parents, Rob and Leslee Taylor, shared with him their interest in Stafford’s Famous Chocolates, recognizing the shop as the gem it was. “My dad said, ‘This is what I want to do. I can’t do it without you. What do you think?’” It was an opportunity to be part of something exciting, and that December, the family jumped in.
Rob, Leslee, son Benjamin and daughter Meredith now own Stafford’s, although the shop bears the name of the original founder and chocolate maker, Larry Stafford. In 1987, Stafford opened his shop in Porterville, and for more than two decades shared his best confections with his community. After his passing in 2006, the Stafford family decided to sell the business. In January 2012, the shop began a new year under the new ownership of the Taylors.
“Larry (Stafford) was a magnificent chocolate maker,” Taylor says. “He was very passionate, made some pretty cool stuff. We don’t want to change any of that. He had a good following, great brand, great reputation locally. We just want to expand it and honor him in doing so.”
There is good reason for Stafford’s Famous Chocolates’ loyal following. In addition to every piece being made by hand, every ingredient is chosen with care. From the locally harvested almonds, pecans and pistachios to the solid 10-pound bricks of chocolate, there is thought behind it all. Caramel, marshmallow and toffee are all house-made. The results are a balance of old favorites and new creative confections.
“We’ve got to stay with our tried and true,” Taylor says, “but if there’s an opportunity to come up with something new that’s going to be really good, let’s do it.”
Their bold truffles are an example of this creativity. Red wine, lavender and rosemary offer a surprising – but welcomed – flavor infusion. Exotic sea salts also give an edge to the classics.
“We don’t want to limit ourselves. We want to be able to come up with unique, creative ways to make confections,” Taylor says.
Even their Four Seasons Chocolate Club, which launched in October, brings something fresh and exciting to the world of chocolate. Members receive seasonal chocolate confections in addition to free shipping and other perks.
Stafford’s is committed to the local economy. They’ve partnered with Dana’s Cookies to make a chocolate-dipped snickerdoodle moon pie, Kathy’s Kernels to create a chocolate-drizzled popcorn and Lanna Coffee to dress up espresso beans. They’ve worked with wineries along the Central Coast and nut growers in the valley. Even as the family expands the business – they now have a second shop in Los Olivos, as well as an online shop – they remain connected to their roots.
“You definitely want to be part of the community that you’re doing business in,” Taylor says. “My dad’s been a business guy his whole life, just got his MBA. He always wants that, and I’ve had the opportunity to learn from him.”
People love Stafford’s Famous Chocolates, but it’s not only because of the joy chocolate brings. Taylor shared the story his dad loves to tell about a father coming into the shop in one December. His daughter, recently deployed to Germany, had asked him for piece of home. He sent her a pound of chocolate. “That’s what she wanted,” Taylor says. “A taste of home. He shipped it out to Germany so she could feel at home for her first Christmas away from her family.”
It’s not difficult to get a piece of chocolate, but to have a piece of home? That requires something more, and it seems Stafford’s Famous Chocolates has the recipe down.
Stafford’s Famous Chocolates
882 West Henderson, Porterville • (559) 784-6640
2902 San Marcos Rd. Unit D, Los Olivos • (805) 688-2893