In New York the chefs go to the green market to get their fruit. Well, I go to my backyard.
On any given morning in the tiny town of Marine on St Croix, MN, you will likely find Robyn Dochterman taking a quiet walk through her local countryside.
Robyn carefully watches the wild grapes, blackberries, and rhubarb grow along the paths, and then – no matter what weather conditions greet her – the chocolatier picks them when they are perfectly ripe.
On some days she’s picking up milk from the dairy down the road, others she’s collecting freshly harvested honey from a local beekeeper. All these ingredients come back to the kitchen at St. Croix Chocolate Company, where Robyn transforms them into exquisite, soulful artisan chocolates that keep her customers coming back for more.
Like many of the entrepreneurs we’re meeting, Robyn credits the recession with giving her the final push to leave her career as a journalist, and turn her passion into a full-time business. The universe pushed & she jumped.
If the economy says ‘yes, you are done with this path,’ sometimes you have to take it as a sign and jump to something else.
Starting St. Croix Chocolate Company wasn’t an easy road, and her resolve has been tested countless times. Robyn studied under the best artisan chocolatiers and now labors with love to create delicious treats made from local produce, in a way that she knew her customers would love.
St. Croix takes a lot of pride in its ingredients. Honey is from a local beekeeper 4 miles away. Maple syrup is sourced 15 miles away and local berries are from the immediate area.
St. Croix Chocolate Co. buys all of its cream and butter from Crystal Ball Farms, an organic farm just across the St. Croix River in Osceola, Wisconsin.
Farm owner — and St. Croix supplier — Troy DeRosier bottles fresh organic milk.
At St. Croix, co-owner Deidre Pope arranges the display case.
Some of St. Croix’s finest.
The shop is located in Marine on St. Croix, a town of less than 800 in the river valley beyond Minneapolis-St. Paul. “I think people in town kind of scratched their head - ‘How are they going to make it?’ But they came in from the beginning and have totally supported us. I am so grateful for that. Now they’re kind of 'Hey, this is our town’s!' And I love that.”
St. Croix Chocolate Company owners Robyn Dochterman and Deidre Pope
Q & A
In between making caramel and steeping vanilla beans Robyn had a chat with me.
What makes St. Croix chocolates special?
I have taken techniques that I learned directly from some of the best chefs in the world and adapted them for the American palate. If it’s raspberry, Americans want that flavor to pop, and to really taste the raspberry. I can create that for them. We also locally source all of our cream, butter, honey syrup & fruit, which makes us special.
What has been like the most challenging moment you’ve had in these first four years of owning the business?
There was a moment early on when I was trying to make chocolate, and things were going kind of poorly and I had been getting frustrated. I was here in the shop alone, and I bent over to do something, I hit my tailbone on one of the low racks that we have, and I broke my tailbone! And I just curled up into a fetal position and cried. I mean, I still had deadlines and I still had to figure out how to make things go right, and I did — but I always go back to that moment when you’re on the cusp. Is this going to unravel or can I pull this off?
How do you get through those hard times?
Go home get some sleep. Because when you are tired you make errors, then you spend all your time trying to correct them, it’s matter of pacing for me. Yes, I can get exhausted and bend down and break my tailbone and think this was the stupidest idea ever. But then I go home and wake up and think ‘you know I really wanna make a cinnamon and hazelnut praline,’ and it’s just like magic.
Why is foraging your own produce so important to you?
Growing up in Iowa I used to spend my summers picking berries at home because there wasn’t much else to do, it was a part of me.
The types of things I forage are wild grapes, wild blackberries, raspberries, and rhubarb. These are things that aren’t cultivated in a grocery store, but where I live they are plentiful, and they are so much more intense in flavor that you can taste in our chocolates.
Also, when our seasonal chocolates are gone, they are gone. There is a specialness to the seasonality, I think there is an element of anticipation for flavors in foods & seasons that magazines don’t often talk about, it is really undervalued.
Do you think you have inspired other people to follow their passions?
I think the kids we have working for us, I think that they are the ones who benefit from seeing what is happening here. They see that we aren’t big corporate business people, we are just regular people turning something we love into a job, a business.
Following the recession do you think the mentality around being an entrepreneur & owning a small business has changed?
Yes, I think there’s more of a ‘what do I have to lose’ attitude. The recession encouraged some people who didn’t have a choice, to just make that jump and think outside the box.
I cannot be a big production machine and just crank out what companies want. I’m trying to hold onto the creative parts here, because I know that’s where the energy of this project is. That big machine is not me, it’s not what I want to do.
Why do you love making chocolate?
I love chocolate because it makes my brain happy, and it makes other people happy. I just love it.