The Sweet Aroma of Revitalization in Downtown Porterville
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By Jordan Venema
The beginning of Porterville’s Stafford’s Chocolate has all the trappings of a great story, mixed, of course, with a little nougat and caramel. Even the way Stafford’s owner Rob Taylor begins the tale sounds like something straight out of a mystery, complete with a stranger from a faraway land, an obsessive protagonist and a lost book of secret recipes.
“A little over 30 years ago, a guy named Larry Stafford was selling ice cream down in Los Angeles, and he met a 90-year-old chocolatier from Europe,” begins Taylor. “He took this guy’s recipes – that was 30 years ago, so those recipes were probably well over 100 years old – and his technique and he made it his own, and came back home to Porterville where he was from and started a chocolate shop.”
Taylor bought the business in 2012, and in the four years since, little has changed – from the recipes down to the little store located in a strip mall, until Taylor decided the chocolate deserved a little more exposure.
“We get more and more visitors from out of town,” explains Taylor, “and we didn’t really have anything to offer them when they came that far to visit. So we bought an old building downtown about 100 years old, and spent the last six months fixing it up and now we have chocolate and coffee.”
The new location for Stafford’s Chocolates and Coffee is meant to offer visitors a comfortable place to sit and rest, or watch the chocolate-making process through large viewing windows. It’s a sweet addition to downtown Porterville.
Taylor isn’t just a businessman and chocolatier, but he is also the chairman of Porterville’s Chamber of Commerce, and he believes the downtown is showing signs of revitalization.
“There are a lot of amazing old buildings with a lot of history, and we’re seeing interest in those buildings,” says Taylor.
Not only has Stafford’s moved downtown, but new office spaces and tap house Vault Bar & Grill have recently opened there, and the city continues to make improvements that should appeal to business owners.
“The City of Porterville has added parking lots, new planters, resurfaced roads, added new security. There are also programs available for businesses that want to improve their building, whether they are leasing or buying it,” says Taylor. He believes new growth reflects a rising demographic of consumers.
“I wouldn’t have said this even a month ago,” Taylor says, “but based on people coming into our shop, the Millennials are changing the marketplace. They’re not looking for malls. They’re looking for small, quaint downtown places.” Which is as much to say that customers want something with meaning, a good story.
And of course, they want good chocolate — and coffee, which was added to the menu somewhat recently. Stafford’s serves up Intelligentsia Coffee, along with handmade syrups, fresh whipped cream, Rosa Brothers milks, “and we even went so far as to put in a reverse osmosis water system,” adds Taylor.
Coffee and chocolate pair well, but when you’re complementing premium-roasted coffee with what Taylor claims is the best chocolate in the world, well, just try not to imagine this as a match made in heaven. Think of mochas or hot cocoa created with homemade chocolate of a potentially 100-year-old recipe, topped with a marshmallow that’s also made in house.
“The marshmallows you buy at the store,” Taylor quips, “those suckers will last a year. So you can imagine what’s in those things.
“Everything is totally homemade. The whole store,” says Taylor, and most everything is local. That includes the fresh-squeezed lemonade with local lemons, or the local nuts, fruits and honeys that are used in the truffles, nut clusters or brittles.
We all know a good book should never be judged by its cover, but having one doesn’t hurt, either. So while small businesses like Stafford’s come ready-made with a great story (and product), downtown Porterville is offering the perfect complement: an historic atmosphere where businesses can be on their best display.
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