On the southwest corner of First and Barstow, near the center of Fresno, California, you’ll find one of the best little chocolate shops in the state. Look hard, because you might miss it.
Raphio’s Chocolate was started in 2015 by Yohanes Makmur and a business partner, both immigrants from Indonesia. They were both working other jobs at the time but wanted something else. Noticing the craft chocolate market and remembering the cacao beans back home, they were surprised to learn that Indonesian chocolate wasn’t even on the map. Originally, they’d hoped to simply be an importer of cacao beans, but life would take them a different direction—much to the benefit of the rest of us.
The pair reached out to their connections back home and found a farmer they liked working with. The farmer shipped them samples and products that both liked, and they started selling them in the U.S. Hopeful, the pair made a massive order of 1.5 tons… more than their supplier could actually handle, as it turned out. The aesthetic quality didn’t meet U.S. producer’s standards, and Yohanes found himself with 1 and a half tons of cacao beans that he didn’t know what to do with.
That’s when his wife Elisia stepped in. She loved the idea of making chocolate from scratch and took those beans, beginning to experiment with them. While Elisia wasn’t the biggest chocolate fanatic, her husband and children were, and she was making chocolate for them. Her standard was simple: whatever chocolate she made had to be good enough for her kids. Not simply in taste, but in quality. Nothing artificial, nothing she wouldn’t want her kids eating.
That standard has remained the same, since. And, when Yohanes decided to begin selling this chocolate, he named the shop accordingly: Raphio, after his sons Raphael and Rio.
Among their greatest challenges, as a microfactory, has been space. It’s obvious when you stand in the front of their store. It’s beautiful and stacked temptingly with cacao beans, cacao tea, chocolates, bonbons, and espresso. You can see the space where they make the chocolate through a small glass window. Speaking as someone who’s been back there for a tour, trust me: there’s not much more space than you can see. As such, they often have to move equipment, clean, and disinfect between tasks, simply because they don’t have the room for a distributed factory space.
They hope to expand as the Coronavirus pandemic reaches its end, maybe with the hope of two of their most reliable allies. The first is the CMTC, which helped them start operations, offered grants for human resources trainings, and assisted them in marketing through the local advisor, Craig Scharton. This is the same man who connected them to many of their current partners. The second notable partner is the Small Business Development Center, who has offered low-cost and free webinars, teaching them how to run a business and build their brand.
Perhaps this local support—always strong in the Fresno area—is part of the reason that, by Yohanes’s own admission, Raphio’s has a dedicated passion for keeping their partners local.
Among their first and most notable partners are Enzo’s Olive Oil, who contributes the oil that makes one of their most delectable bars, and local coffee giant Kuppajoy. They consulted with Kuppajoy before building their brand and, since opening, have offered chocolate coffee beans and espresso, both sourced from Kuppajoy. Meanwhile, Kuppajoy is one of the most reliable places to find Raphio’s chocolate bars, lately, they’ve even expanded their local outreach to nearby Madera, where Ficklin Vineyard’s Port Wine plays a crucial part in the making of Raphio’s delicious and hard-to-get bon bons.
Raphio’s offerings aren’t limited to chocolate. Before the pandemic, they’d also began to focus on education, offering incredibly informative tours of the factory, complete with details about the chocolate harvesting process and life in Indonesia. You’re given a chance to touch the chocolate, taste it, smell it, breathe it. In the future, they hope to grow their educational offerings, maybe making them extracurricular opportunities for local schools and senior homes. Yohanes hopes to use this education to change childrens’ eating habits at a young age, showing them the benefits of dark chocolate and real chocolate, as opposed to the “chocolate-flavored sugar” you’ll find in grocery aisles.
Likewise, they want a cultural lesson wrapped into the tour, as well. Yohanes would like to teach about the places these cacao beans originate from, possibly partnering with local organizations to bring artifacts to show children.
But, this comes back to the problem of space. The factory floor is too small for them to offer tours outside of weekends, when schools are closed and people are staying inside, away from the Valley heat. When they expand, they hope to keep this goal of education in mind, researching circulation, space planning, and how people move from one spot to another to expand in a way that allows them to offer tours and increase production without impeding each other.
Yohanes says that, when you pay attention to the ingredients of your food, you shouldn’t simply look at health. You need to pay attention of how it’s made, where, and by who. This chocolate is craft, he says. Its story isn’t limited to Fresno. The farmers back in Indonesia are an integral part of it, and part of the reason for the extra price of the chocolate is that the money goes directly to farmers to better their family’s lives.
One question remains, though: what is Yohanes’s favorite chocolate on offer? He admits that chocolate is an enormous weakness of his, and doesn’t hesitate on his answer: his favorite is the dark chocolate from Tanzania, 72%. It starts like eating honey, and as it melts gives way to flavors of fruits and berries. After you swallow, it lingers on your tongue with a nice tang. Yohanes describes the process of a “rollercoaster of flavors” that is “playing a concert in your mouth.”
It shouldn’t be any surprise that the bar has won competitions in places as far away as London.