Dolores Park Truffle Man is going legit.
The cult-followed chocolate maker and his pot-laced truffles have graduated from the park’s informal economy to the dispensary market, where they’re now on sale in sleek, professional packaging from providers like SPARC. To ramp up supply, he’s leased a warehouse space in an area of Oakland permitted for medical cannabis production. And after more than ten years operating as an open secret — yes, there’s even a Yelp page — Truffle Man is stepping away from the park where he built his following, pausing in-person sales to focus on his new, legal business.
Truffle Man’s transformation is a potent sign of the times — and a long time coming for the local entrepreneur. “I’ve had this in mind the whole way through,” says Truffle Man, whose real name is Trevor. “I’ve been waiting all these years”
As pop-ups go — and that’s sort of what Truffle Man has been — Trevor might hold an endurance record. He’s sold truffles every weekend, more or less, for about 11 years. Switching to commercial sales might come with advantages, but it’s not a move he takes lightly. “It was something I only wanted to do if I could navigate it with integrity,” says Trevor.
Specifically, that meant maintaining 100 percent ownership of his brand, turning down offers of outside investment (though he might accept them in the future). Integrity also meant paying the same attention to commercial packaging that he’s lavished on his in-person sales. Trevor’s white clothes, straw hat, and gleaming copper truffle pots are almost inextricable from the Truffle Man brand. A longtime sculptor and artist originally from the Bay Area, Trevor designed and built those himself.
“I want my copper pots to enthrall and intrigue and build trust,” he explains. “I really like the hand-to-hand experience, the feeling of seeing my customers, and I didn’t want to just put my chocolates in some box.”
To echo his pots in package form, Trevor designed (and re-designed, and re-designed) gold embossed boxes with an art-deco pattern. The “T” and “M” of his “Truffle Man Chocolates” logo channels his costume, truffles juggling overhead.
Throughout the years, Truffle Man has struck a nearly miraculous balance with his brand. He’s maintained a profile high enough to attract customers, but low enough to avoid the authorities. “Publicity is a double edged sword,” says Trevor. The infamous Yelp page, created by enthusiastic fans, “initially scared the hell out of me.”
After his first year in the park, chocolate making and selling had become Trevor’s full-time gig. So when the Yelp page surfaced, “I thought, ‘well, there goes my job.’ I just kept going to the park, but I got more paranoid. I would sometimes take time off.”
Dolores Park, a laissez faire zone for local law enforcement, has experienced occasional crackdowns. These days, police presence there is at a near all-time high in response to recent violence. But Trevor weathered such changes, and in the end, the positive reviews on his Yelp page and general public recognition helped to legitimize him.
“It solidified itself, it made me more accepted,” Trevor says.
Trevor began selling pot truffles in a pinch. He needed an outlet for a bum crop of marijuana that couldn’t be sold in smokeable form.
“I learned earlier that year from a girlfriend how to make chocolate,” Trevor recalls. “It was a Hail Mary.” It was also a hit.
These days, Truffle Man starts with dark, 70 percent cacao chocolate and premium, cold water hash (marijuana is fat soluble, binding to butter and oils). He originally whipped his mixture by hand “in a humungous wok,” but later invested in a state-of-the-art, 200 pound Savage Bros. chocolate tempering machine.
After Trevor gets his chocolate crystals “all perfect and great,” he pumps them into an old-fashioned Hobart mixer, which looks to him “like a fire engine from the 1800s.” He then whips his cream into chocolate, separating out his ganache mixture to create different flavors with ingredients like espresso and coconut. Park-goers’ three favorite flavors — salted caramel, Jamaican rum, and Turkish coffee — are the first available for dispensary sale, sold in packs of two.
Each individual truffle contains 10 mg of marijuana — a low dose by medical standards. “I’ve changed my dosages around a lot over the years,” Trevor explains. “I hated the idea of someone eating them, and telling me they didn’t work. And then, I found that people don’t need them that strong.”
Trevor himself “lost the taste for being high out of my mind a long time ago... The general population actually wants a low dose.”
According to SPARC product manager Josh Hoffman, Truffle Man’s chocolates are among the dispensary’s lowest potency items. For now, that could put them at a disadvantage. “At the moment, with the medical system in place, patients are looking for the most effective relief, or the highest dose,” Hoffman says.
But when recreational sales begin sometime next year, depending on legislation, lower dose edibles could be more popular. “In the future, with general adult use, and fewer barriers to entry, I think consumers are going to like this,” Hoffman predicts.
Truffle Man doesn’t lack for competition in the edibles market, and larger companies entering the business could leave small, pre-legalization pot entrepreneurs in the dust. “The companies I’m going up against have millions invested, and can easily afford to lose it,” Trevor acknowledges. “They have a war chest”
But for Trevor, there’s one big advantage: He’s the Truffle Man.
“He has a brand, and most other edible companies have a graphic artist,” Hoffman says. “He’s got more likes on Yelp than most dispensaries have.”
SPARC cofounder Erich Pearson, who struck up a rapport with Truffle Man years ago, agrees. “Everybody and their brother wants to get into the marijuana space right now, but there are very few that have a story to tell.”
Every time Pearson saw Trevor in the park, he’d ask, “why don’t you take the next step?” Eventually, and slowly, Trevor agreed. “He’s so meticulous,” says Pearson. “There was no way he was going to come in with a product that was half-baked, no pun intended.”
With Pearson’s encouragement, Trevor found a lawyer experienced with cannabis clients. While refining his products for medical sale, he signed a long term lease on a 2,000-square-foot space in Oakland’s so-called green zone, a permitted area for medical cannabis production. To build out the space, which boasts 30-foot-ceilings and a courtyard, Trevor is consulting with an architect who helped design TCHO’s chocolate’s factory.
“I didn’t want to rent space in someone else’s kitchen,” says Trevor. “I want to be in the fabric of San Francisco for years to come.”
Does that mean he wants to be, say, the Ghirardelli of weed chocolates? As if.
“Namewise, sure,” he responds to the question. “But Ghirardelli cut corners on quality a while ago.”
That’s not how the Truffle Man rolls.