It’s definitely been a minute since we last brought you a brand new In Focus Feature, but here, with a much more hopeful holiday season on the very near horizon, we’re back to take you on a wonderful new chocolate journey.
This time you’ll travel from New Mexico to Hawaii… from Washington to Madagascar… from Papa New Guinea to Peru, as you join Art Pollard of Amano Chocolate on his own personal journey from a science-loving youngster in Los Alamos, New Mexico, to an elite chocolate maker in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Art has a storytelling knack of his own that really made this interview fun, and I hope you enjoy it as much as you’ll undoubtedly enjoy Amano Chocolate itself (for more on that, click here for a special offer that ends 11/18/21).
Let’s dive in…
New Mexico Roots
Art Amano spent his early years in Los Alamos, New Mexico, home to the Los Alamos National Laboratory. At the time, 65% of the city’s population had a PhD, so, as you might imagine, he grew up with a strong love for science.
We didn’t have sports heroes… we had Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Hans Beta. Many of our neighbors were already legends.
Art believes that you always find the best food in regions where multiple cultures intersect, “which is why you find really great food in port cities,” he notes.
Despite its landlocked spot on the map, New Mexico mirrors this same type of cultural intersect, with “strong food heritages from Mexican, Anglo, and Native American cultures.”
At the entrance to Los Alamos stood a wonderful New Mexican restaurant called Philomena’s, an eatery clearly with a special place in Art’s heart :
We used to eat at Philomena’s regularly. They had a wonderful poster by the door of King Kong spiking an airplane.
The poster said, “If you have any complaints about our food, talk to the chef.”
There were no complaints of course. Not because the chef might spike you or drive you into the ground like a piling, but because Philomena’s truly served up excellent food.
And so, even from my youngest memories, I found myself always searching out the very best restaurants and the very best food.
Now I’m a little surprised he didn’t call his chocolate company King Kong Chocolate, but perhaps copyright issues may have made him feel like that proverbial airplane…
A Northwest Journey
Later, Art moved to Snoqualmie, Washington, just outside Seattle. As he recalls, at the time it was a rough blue collar town, gritty, yet with its own more off-the-radar culinary charm.
“Even though people didn’t think of the food scene much, they didn’t have to,” Art notes, “The food was outstanding.”
His father’s office sat on the corner of 2nd Street and Union, just a few blocks away from the famous Pike Street Market. Art would take the bus into town and wait for his dad to get off work.
With a lot of time to kill on those days, he spent a lot of it at a sporting goods store called Warshal’s, a magic & pranks store (which he frequented, to cause a lot of mischief at school), and of course at the Pike Street Market.
I was exposed to amazing fresh foods, all at peak ripeness and loved and cared for by the farmers who grew them. My time in that region just really enhanced my love for great food.
The Day Chocolate and Physics Collided
Art eventually made his way to BYU (Brigham Young University) for college. Because of his science pedigree back at Los Alamos (he’d actually worked on BYU’s graduate research projects since freshman year of high school, including nuclear fusion reactors), he wound up working in the Physics Department.
“I easily landed a job there,” Art notes, “all I had to do was ask. My job was to build equipment for the department and to set up the various demonstrations for the classes. I loved it, I spent a lot of time building and fixing some really cool equipment,” he adds.
One very random day, Art was enjoying a chocolate bar from Germany he’d purchased from the BYU bookstore (I mean seriously random here). He made an off-hand comment that it would be really great to make his own chocolate one day.
His co-workers in the Physics Department, who apparently knew more about it than he did, abruptly interjected that he couldn’t do it – “You need millions of dollars of machinery,” they said.
Art thought: “No biggie. That’s what I build. What else?”
“Well… there are lots of trade secrets too,” they added.
That only piqued Art’s interest further. “I love secrets, it means there’s a research project to dive into… what else?” Art asked.
It’s also really hard to find high quality cacao beans.
Art thought, “That’s fine, I’ll just go get my own.”
And on that fateful day, courtesy of a German chocolate bar from the BYU Bookstore no less, the first light of Amano Chocolate started to burn.
It’s safe to say that Art knows his chocolate machinery
Hawaii Stokes the Flames
A few years later Art married the love of his life. The wedding took place in Hawaii, where he’d also spent some time living as well.
As fate would have it, there was a Belgian confectionery shop in the Hilton Hawai’ian village.
My wife and I went in and the pieces shone like gems. At the time, the new thing in the shop was nut clusters. I asked the lady behind the counter how much they cost. They were two dollars and being newly married, that really meant four dollars. We only had $500 spending money for the rest of the week…
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it so I asked her if they had any that were about to expire that I could buy at a discount. She said, no, they had to send all their unsold chocolates back to Belgium. I realized that they were serious about what they were doing, so I did indeed buy two. They really were a whole new level of chocolate for me, above what I’d normally experienced.
Immediately upon his return, Art called his old boss from the Physics Department and told him, “Hey guess what – I’m going to start making chocolate!” I asked him to please look out for some used machines that I could adapt for chocolate.
Soon after, his old boss brought some machines over for Art to try. That gave him a place to start, and it wasn’t long before he started buying and adapting machines to make his own chocolate.
Ready, Fire, Aim – The Amano Chocolate Launch
Meanwhile, Art and his business partner, Clark Goble, were writing search engine technologies, which they eventually licensed to really large companies such as Motorola, AskSam, Adobe, etc. for integration into their products. On a very unique side note for a chocolate maker, about 150,000 lines of C++ code in Adobe Acrobat were written by Art.
All the while, however, the chocolate dream continued to percolate. Art elaborates –
We would be writing code for Fortune 500 companies, but in the other room, there would be chocolate machines I’d built doing their thing, making truly amazing chocolate. I approached it very methodically, like a true research project with the goal of making the world’s finest chocolate.
It wasn’t long before the movers and shakers in the Salt Lake City food community were calling it the best chocolate that they’d ever had. We decided that we had to launch this as a business.
In short order, Art found himself flying to Europe to further study chocolate making… and to Central America as well, in search of great cacao beans and used machinery.
They poured all their funds from the software company into developing the chocolate company, and all their machines were selected with the end goal of maximizing flavor.
Art continues the story –
It took an additional two years to build out our factory and finalize our technique. All told, I spent eleven years developing my chocolate making skills prior to launching. We incorporated in 2005 and launched to the public in 2007.
As for the launch, well… National Public Radio (NPR) asked for a sample of our chocolate. I didn’t think much of it at the time, and I sent them some bars.
The next thing we knew, NPR ran an article saying that it was some of the best chocolate in the United States for Valentine’s Day. Clark and I looked at each other and said: “Well, I guess we just launched”.
So we turned on the website and have never looked back!
Those “Really Hard to Find” Cacao Beans…
Amano sources beans from Ecuador, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Peru, Papua New Guinea, Mexico, Madagascar, and “pretty much any other country that has truly spectacular beans.”
He spends a lot of time working with the farmers, helping them improve their processes wherever he can.
Even more importantly, Art makes it a point himself to ensure that all the cacao Amano sources is grown under ethical conditions. He adds, “Though to be fair, with the farms that we have worked with, this really hasn’t been a problem.”
As we near the end of the interview, he essentially wraps up Amano Chocolate in a nice pretty bow for all of us –
Our philosophy throughout the entire process is to create the world’s finest chocolate. Flavor is paramount. Even so, we try to create the world’s finest quality chocolate not just through flavor, but also through our ingredient sourcing, honesty in marketing, and really in all that we do.
Of course, we aren’t making the perfect chocolate… yet. But we are working on it.
Most people when they taste Amano Chocolate are amazed at the flavor. People who normally don’t like dark chocolate quickly become converts. That’s what we’re known for, chocolate that highlights the flavors naturally found in the beans we select.
I truly try to make every batch of chocolate an homage to the farmers that I work with… to the great people who grow and harvest the cacao.
Amana offers several flavors crafted with single origin cocoa beans – Guayas, Dos Rios, Morobe, Ocumare, Madagascar, and Macoris. They also offer a number of flavored bars with inclusions, in attempts to perfectly pair spices and other ingredients with the flavors of the cacao – Raspberry Rose, Cardamom and Black Pepper, and Mango Chili. Some new flavors are on the way soon too.
Art says his best sellers are Raspberry Rose and Dos Rios. He based the Raspberry Rose bar on a cake by the famous French pastry chef Pierre Herme.
For single origin bars, the aforementioned Dos Rios is hands down the most popular. The chocolate naturally tastes like bergamot orange and lavender. It’s not something Amano adds in the slightest, just simply the intrinsic flavor of the cacao.
In a non-pandemic world, you can catch Amano Chocolate all over the country, as they attend various chocolate shows. Art says he loves “developing friendships with our customers and getting to see our amazing country as we promote our chocolate and of course, trying some new restaurants along the way.
He adds, “So keep your eyes open, if there is a chocolate show in your neighborhood, it’s possible we might be there.”
So what’s next for this scientific chocolate maker? How about world peace?
Chocolate makes people happy. Especially really good chocolate. Perhaps if people eat enough really fine chocolate, they will be happy enough to achieve World Peace. World Peace through chocolate, how great would that be?
In closing, I ask Art what he loves most about making chocolate, and I’ll leave you here with his answer…
The best part of making truly spectacular chocolate is that I can see the light in people’s eyes when they taste something truly special. You can especially see, when they taste it for the first time, that they are expecting something they’ve already experienced.
But then they put it in their mouth and realize they’re eating something truly special. Nothing can beat that. Unless of course, it’s the light in the eyes of the farmers we work with when I take chocolate back to them that was crafted with the beans that they grew!
The Amano Chocolate Four Bar Collection (available right here in our Chocolate Shop through 11/18/21)
If you’re chomping at the bit to try Amano Chocolate, the best place you can sample Amano (through November 18th 2021) is right here with us, via the Amano Four Bar Collection, availably exclusively at Chocolate Connoisseur Magazine. You can score $50 worth of Amano Chocolate for as little as $30. Click here for details.
You can also use the links below to find more Amano. No matter how or when you first try Amano Chocolate, chances are you’re going to LOVE it, so please do let us know what you think. And our best wishes to Art, his son Aaron, and everyone else at Amano Chocolate, as they move forward on their chocolate adventure — and thankfully share it with us too!
And click the links below to connect with them on social media.
+ PHOTOS BY AMANO CHOCOLATE
(unless otherwise noted)