As the Pacific Northwest’s Local Forager, discovering new products and producers is certainly fun and a huge part of my job. But sometimes it’s even more fun to “re-discover” an old favorite. Fran’s Chocolates isn’t just a classic local product. It’s a local – and national – treasure, too.
Fran Bigelow opened her original Seattle store, Fran’s Patisserie & Chocolate Specialties, in 1982, focusing on freshly baked pastries and cakes. Her move toward confections began gradually; if you were lucky enough to be one of the early customers, you were often treated to a free chocolate truffle while waiting in line to purchase baked goods. Yum!
Today, Fran’s Chocolates are known and loved far beyond the Pacific Northwest. She’s been featured on the Food Network and in newspapers around the country.
When President Barack Obama was on the campaign trail four years ago, he discovered her legendary Smoked Salt Caramels and went bonkers for them. Now, special visitors to the White House receive a box of the salted caramels stamped with the Presidential Seal as a parting gift – half in milk chocolate (The President’s favorite) and half in dark chocolate (First Lady Michelle’s preference).
And of course, you can find Fran’s Chocolates in Whole Foods Market stores throughout the US. Since Fran’s marks 30 years of producing one-of-a-kind sweets on June 1 of this year, I took a tour of their production kitchens with CEO Andrina Bigelow, Fran’s daughter, to learn just what makes them so special.
They make between 18,000-20,000 caramels each day.
Each caramel is coated twice with a special blend of chocolate made exclusively for Fran’s by Valrhona.
They make four to six kettles of caramel every day. Each batch of caramel takes 45 minutes to cook.
The signature sprinkle of salt is hand applied to each caramel. Once the caramels are set, each one is placed in a paper cup and then placed in a box.
The distinctive ribbons on each box are hand-tied and the packaging is changed to reflect the season.
Hue (shown here) has been part of Fran’s for 19 years, and in the early years it was just Fran and Hue tying the ribbons on each box. Today Hue is the supervisor of packing and is still giving each box of chocolates that special touch.
The quality of the product on the inside is matched by the presentation. I found the secret to Fran’s success can be boiled down to using the highest quality ingredients; unwavering attention to detail with a focus on taste; and hiring and nurturing a talented team.
I could see these principles demonstrated everywhere I looked on my tour, and it’s no surprise to me that they’ve been going strong for as long as they have. Here’s to 30 more years!