Sam Ratto was sitting in front of a pile of cacao beans one day and he had an epiphany. He could make his own chocolate.
Ratto, who comes from a family of farmers, had some experience in the industry. He and wife, Starr Sink, worked for Escazu Artisan Chocolates in Raleigh. But the couple wanted to strike out and make their own product from organic ingredients.
The result is the Videri Chocolate Factory, located in the historic Depot Station across from The Pit. The warehouse once housed the Ess Nightclub, but you wouldn't be able to tell by the rustic environment that Videri has created.
Walking through the doors, visitors see bags of fresh cacao beans from small farms in Peru stacked in one corner. Ordering from smaller farms means the product is less likely to have been treated with pesticides, Ratto said.
Along another wall are mason jars filled with the main three ingredients used in every bar - organic cane sugar, organic cocoa butter and cacao beans. Other natural ingredients are used to create flavors like Pink Peppercorn and Peppermint.
Through another set of doors, visitors are taken on a short tour of how each bar is made. The entire process takes about four days.
Ratto and workers begin by hand-sorting every bean, before roasting. Then, a vacuum-like machine separates the beans from the husks. Ratto said the husk mixture is sold to home beer brewers in 1-3 pound packs for the same amount he purchases the beans for. (Duck Rabbit is even using the mixture to create a few beers during an event Jan. 27 at Tasty Beverage.)
The beans are then ground with sugar and cocoa butter on machines normally used to blend Indian seasonings. They get the job done, but at a much slower pace then large commercial machines.
The chocolate is then placed through a machine meant to smooth it out. A worker fills each mold by hand.
Ratto said much of the chocolate is set aside to age for up to two months. While the average chocolate fan wouldn't notice it, aging chocolate like wine creates an even better flavor, Ratto said.
Videri is small, creating 150-200 pound of chocolate a week because the equipment used doesn't creating mass amounts. Ratto said he, Sink and co-owner Chris Heavener wanted to focus on creating the best possible product before purchasing larger machines.
Now, Videri's isn't like Hershey's milk chocolate. Flavors at Videri include Sea Salt, Pink Peppercorn and Peppermint Chocolate and have much larger concentrations of cocoa, for a more dark chocolate feel.
The factory opened in late December, but will be holding a grand opening on Friday, Jan. 13. Stop by to get a tour of how the chocolate is made, free tastings and a special "buy four chocolate bars, get one free" discount.
Currently, you can only buy Videri from the factory, but they plan to expand to wholesale and retail customers. They also plan to produce custom chocolates for weddings, private parties, corporate events and other special occasions. The building itself can even be used as an event space.
In addition to the retail counter and factory floor, Videri has an outdoor patio where the public is free to relax and enjoy their chocolate with a glass of wine or beer they bring.
Videri Chocolate Factory is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday 11 a.m.- 7 p.m. and by appointment.