San Francisco “bean to bar” chocolate maker Dandelion Chocolate is poised to multiply its current output on Valencia Street by a factor of 10 to 20 with the opening of a huge new factory. But the long-awaited, nearly 30,000-square-foot facility at 16th and Harrison won’t merely increase Dandelion’s production, which is currently about 300,000 bars per year. With a cafe and tasting salon, the gleaming, Gensler designed space (located in a former mattress factory and printing company) will offer visitors new ways to sample Dandelion’s wares and learn about the chocolate making process.
Production at the new factory starts now: As of this week, machines are busy roasting and grinding beans for Dandelion’s 70-percent-plus cacao chocolate bars. Next, around April 15, Dandelion will open the new cafe at the site, lead by star pastry chef Lisa Vega, as well as a chocolate salon, which the team likens to a tea room, but for chocolate, which is arguably better.
San Francisco has always been “sort of a chocolate city,” says Dandelion co-founder and CEO Todd Masonis, citing Ghirardelli, Guittard, and his more recent inspiration, Scharffen Berger. But these days, “no one builds chocolate factories in San Francisco any more,” and now Masonis thinks he knows why.
Dandelion has been working on its new factory for five years, with delays caused by permitting and construction. The new space is even longer in the making than that: Almost as soon as the first crowds of chocolate lovers piled into Dandelion’s factory on Valencia Street, Masonis says the company was overwhelmed by demand.
“We thought maybe a few people would show up per day, but by the time we opened our doors, were completely maxed out,” he recalls. “We were telling people to buy [fewer] bars…. that’s kinda weird as a business.” With the new factory in place, customers can buy all they want, and Dandelion will reach even more retail accounts.
Dandelion is Masonis and co-founder Cameron Ring’s second company. They sold their first, a tech startup, to Comcast in 2008. It was “a normal Silicon Valley story — lots of ups and downs,” Masonis recalls. After the sale, “we had a little bit of free time and extra money, and it gave us the freedom to explore our passions.”
The duo started their chocolate production Silicon Valley-style: Out of a Mountain View garage. But the goal has never been a big payday or acquisition. “We didn’t start this business cause we were looking at excel and the market opportunity,” says Masonis. “We started it because we wanted to do something awesome.”
Dandelion’s approach to chocolate — treating it as complex like wine or coffee, unadulterated by cocoa butter, vanilla, or too much sugar — struck a nerve with customers in the Bay Area and beyond. The brand now includes outposts from the Ferry Building to Japan. But there’s an irony to growing a company like Dandelion, which was founded in contrast to large chocolate makers whose industrialized production gets worse as it increases. That’s not what Masonis wants to see.
“To expand, we need to make more chocolate more efficiently — and we actually want our chocolate to taste better.” To make that happen, Dandelion’s factory uses a mix of refurbished antique equipment and state-of-the art technology. An optical sorter, for instance, analyzes and divides beans with the aid of a neural network.
While that sounds perfectly fun to watch, Dandelion’s team wants visitors to get more out of a trip to the new facility than just a look at the machinery. “We want to be part of the community,” says Masonis. “We want to engage everyone, and get people excited.”
Hence the cafe: Expect a casual affair like the space on Valencia, serving pastries from chef Vega, coffee from Ritual, and Dandelion’s famous hot chocolate. The salon, meanwhile, will be “more of an elevated experience.”
“It’s kind of like America’s answer to Angelina in Paris,” says Masonis, citing the legendary tea house also known for its hot chocolate and sweets. “This is more like, if you wanna spend an hour and a half and learn all about chocolate.”
While the salon, and the factory, are designed to impress, Dandelion intends to keep the focus on chocolate, not distract from it with Willy Wonka razzle dazzle. “It’s gonna be a long time till we have roller coaster,” Masonis says.
Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that the new production facility would free up Dandelion’s current Valencia Street space, which serves dual production and retail purposes, for dedicated cafe use only. Dandelion Valencia will instead continue to produce chocolate with “a different focus” and serve as a cafe space, a representative for the business clarifies.