Santa Cruz Sentinel Article 2
A sweet gamble: Scotts Valley couple took a chance with chocolate business and found success
By Rosy Weiser
Posted: 06/20/2012 01:30:11 AM PDT Santa Cruz Sentinel
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Lloyd and Lindy Martin left other careers to start their... (Dan Coyro/Sentinel
SCOTTS VALLEY -- There's never a dull moment behind the scenes with chocolatiers Lloyd and Lindy Martin. The couple, both in their 60s, work side by side, day in and day out, hands deep in the business of turning ground cacao beans into silky, exquisitely flavored cubes of chocolate heaven.
They've been at it for about eight years, first as wholesalers operating their business Chocolate Visions, and more recently as retailers at their Kings Village Shopping Center storefront of the same name. They'll be celebrating their one-year anniversary at the shop this weekend with discounted products, refreshments, samples and a raffle.
"It just seemed like a good idea at the time," explained Lloyd Martin, relaying how he suddenly morphed from a software engineer facing an uncertain future after the bust of his industry to a guy who makes chocolate.
"It was stupidity, a dumb idea," countered his wife, Lindy Martin.
"We did not know anything about chocolates when we started," she exclaimed, laughing, with a certain blend of triumph and dry humor.
Triumph because the couple has figured everything out on their own, from the chocolate recipes themselves [which include unique flavor pairings like tarragon truffles or a chocolate bar with candied Meyer lemon peel and applewood-smoked almonds] to how to hand-make edible inks, then print custom designs on the final product.
Dry humor because they've been married more than 30 years ["I don't remember exactly how long, but it's been a long time," Lindy Martin said] and playful ribbing is part of their chemistry.
"Frankly, I hate chocolate," Lindy Martin continued.
"No, no, no, that's not right," disputed Lloyd Martin. "You hate other people's chocolate."
"I don't like chocolate so if I like it, it has to be halfway decent," Lindy Martin said, getting in the last word.
Differences aside, the parents of two adult children make a great team when it comes to producing very fine chocolate. A lifelong lover of baking and winner of multiple awards at the Santa Cruz County Fair for his breads, pies and fudges, Lloyd Martin initially considered opening his own bakery when faced with the need to redirect his career. But then, on a whim, he decided to try chocolates. With his discerning wife by his side, a woman with lots of ideas and a refined palate, the two have spent years developing special flavor enhancements like their popular rose chocolate. This delicacy is infused with rose oil [imported from Turkey at around $600 per ounce] to give it a sublime and delicate taste that's hard to put into words.
Creating a flavored chocolate is a subtle art and the Martins will spend months perfecting it. They struggled to achieve the right balance of oil to chocolate with the rose confections [in the end they discovered they only needs a few drops for each batch]. They also wrestled with caramels for more than a year before they were satisfied.
"We make the best salted caramels. I mean, really. They're not too hard and they don't stick in your teeth," Lloyd Martin said proudly, adding that another satisfying feat was pairing local champagne from Equinox winery with their chocolate.
"The flavor of chocolate overpowers a lot so trying to get the flavor of champagne through the chocolate was a challenge," said Lloyd Martin, who grew up in San Jose and moved to Santa Cruz 33 years ago.
In fact, supplying vineyards with custom-created wine-infused chocolates imprinted with the winery's logo is one of their most lucrative endeavors. To date, the couple have supplied more than 80 wineries from Santa Barbara to Washington with this service.
A newer project has been a line of sugar-free chocolates. Sweetened with Maltitol, a corn or wheat-derived substance with just over half the calories of regular sugar and fewer carbohydrates, the chocolates were developed for people like diabetics on special diets.
The couple hopes to increase sales at their retail store, where they have five part-time employees, in the coming year. They plan to continue using local ingredients whenever possible while forging ahead in unrivaled do-it-yourself fashion as the business expands. Apparently, retirement is nowhere on the horizon for the Santa Cruz couple.
"I don't see any point in retiring. What would we do?" Lloyd Martin said.
"Then we'd really get on each other's nerves," Lindy Martin piped in.