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Meet Mary Ervin of Ethereal Confections in Northwest Suburbs

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mary Ervin.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Mary. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I got started in the chocolate industry when I was 14. My first job was at a family-owned candy store that was down the street from my high school. It introduced me to, and gave me an appreciation, for dark chocolate. When I went away to college, I got another job at a family candy store and fell in love with making chocolate confections.

I started making chocolates at home and giving them for gifts and parties. By the end of my college career, I had decided that I was going to have a chocolate company of my own someday rather than being a graphic designer. I worked as a graphic designer for five years before starting Ethereal with my friend, Sara Miller, and my brother, Michael Ervin. I was still working as a graphic designer during the day and I making chocolate at night.

On Saturday mornings I was at the farmers market selling my chocolates. The business became so busy, that Sara, Michael and I started looking for our own storefront. We opened a 450 sq ft store the end of our first year and quickly outgrew that location. While we were in that store, we started experimenting with making our own small batch bean to bar chocolate. In 2013 we moved to our current location that also has a cafe and bar.

We serve coffee, cocktails, food, desserts, and of course chocolate. We are now 100% bean to bar chocolate (meaning we make all of our own chocolate from cocoa beans that we source from Central and South America). Our chocolates are sold in our store and in over 250 stores across the country.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Starting a business is never a smooth road. You have to be passionate about your business and come up with creative ideas to get through obstacles.

When we first decided to sell chocolate at the farmers market, we needed a commercial kitchen to work out of. We called every place in town with a commercial kitchen to rent in their off-hours. Every single business said no. I was really frustrated and talking to one of my friends that owns a restaurant in town. He offered his kitchen, and that’s how we got started.

We’ve been in business for seven years, and have had to deal with all sorts of issues. We just have to keep working toward our goal and enjoy what we’re doing.

Ethereal Confections – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Ethereal Confections is a small batch bean to bar chocolate maker. We were the first in Illinois.

We source cocoa beans from Central and South America. Bean sourcing is difficult and there are no guarantees; there are many, many co-ops, plantations, and small producers. It takes a lot of work to build a relationship and a lot of quality control to assure that the beans are up to our standards. In addition, we put our money where our values are. We work with producers in whom we have confidence in terms of 100% organic ingredients and fair treatment/pay for all of their employees and farmers.

After that, we spend the time to understand the bean and then turn it into chocolate with no special additives or preservatives for use in our single origin bars and blends for our confections. We currently only source from Central and South America, specifically Haiti, The Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Ecuador to assure we can visit frequently and maintain our relationships.

For each origin, each region and each harvest we go through a process to determine the optimal roast to give the perfect flavor to each chocolate. We typically start with a slow roast and take beans out every few minutes to assess flavor. We pick our favorites and then make small test batches to see how the final results will taste.

After the roasting process is complete, we let the beans cool for 6-8 hours and then go to the winnower. The roasting process dries out the beans to allow the husk to be separated from the nib more easily (the nib is 100% chocolate!) The nib is what gets ground into chocolate.

The grinding process applies significant force to the nibs which breaks the cell walls and releases the fat. Nibs are about 50% fat (the actual percentage varies by batch) and the friction heats the nibs which liquifies the fat. We then add sugar and grind for 24 hours to reduce the particle size and produce a smooth chocolate.

In addition to making our own chocolate, which we make into chocolate bars, truffles, and other goodies, we have a cafe and bar. We feature our specialty chocolates, teas, coffees, desserts, small plates, craft cocktails and whatever else strikes our fancy that day!

All of our foods and drinks are made from scratch. That includes—syrups, bread, pastries, bitters, you name it! All gluten free too. We also offer classes and events every month. We do spirit and chocolate pairings, chocolate making classes, truffle making classes, and cocktail classes.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
When we opened our first shop, people in Woodstock would say that they had no idea that there was even a chocolate shop on the square. Now, 5 years later, if I say I own the chocolate shop on the square, they exclaim “Ethereal?! I love that place!”. I’m really proud to have a business on the square that the community is so supportive of. It’s become a destination, and people visit Woodstock just to come to our store. It’s also really exciting that so many places across the country carries our products. We’ve grown a lot in the past 7 years, and we have more ideas for the future.

Pricing:

  • Chocolate Bars $7.95
  • Truffle Gift Boxes from $10.95
  • Spirit & Chocolate Pairing Events from $30
  • Chocolate Making Classes from $75

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Tasha Schalk, Lisa Beard

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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