Passion (and a taste for fun) drives local chocolate makers

A guest interview with John and Belinda Spear, of Le Chocolatier Canmore

When you open the door, it envelopes you: the smell of fine chocolate. And then you see it: chocolate in all shapes and sizes, boxes and see-through packages … all kinds of goodies to tempt you.

LINDA COTE-Le Chocolatier interior2This is one of my favorite spots in Canmore: Le Chocolatier’s retail shop and chocolate-making factory where I regularly re-stock my art studio’s valuable dark chocolate stash. Barb and I have one studio rule we never compromise on: we can’t run out of chocolate (preferably dark), and whoever takes the last piece has to buy the next bar (usually from Le Chocolatier).

On this day, I had the pleasure of getting a behind-the-scenes look at this fine locally-owned Canmore business that specializes in handcrafted Belgian chocolates. The owners, John and Belinda Spear, gave me a personal tour, and of course a few chocolates to sample along the way.

My first question had to be how this dynamic couple stays so slim surrounded by all this chocolate every day. Belinda smiles knowingly and says, “We eat a little chocolate every day. That way we don’t have the big cravings that might undo us.”

If you happen to have an undeniable chocolate craving like me, you’ve come to the right place. There is a stunning variety to satisfy anyone’s taste. They have over 20 chocolate bar flavours, 20 kinds of truffles, plus bonbons with flavors like Lemon Sorbet, Raspberry Parfait, Hazelnut Praline, and more.

“In a typical week, we go through about 300 kilos of chocolate (about 660 pounds),” says John. “During seasonal times, like Christmas and Easter, it’s easily three-times that amount.”

The day I was in, just before Easter, they had three tempering machines running, one for each type of chocolate: milk, white and dark. The machine uses a precise heating process that keeps the chocolate liquefied until it is ready to pour into moulds or to be used for dipping other ingredients when making specialty chocolates. Once out of the machine it hardens in about 5 to 20 minutes, depending on the shape of the chocolate. Today, I watched chocolate-maker Bea dip chocolate mallows and create Easter bunnies.

LINDA COTE-Le Chocolatier Bea 1

Bea dips each chocolate by hand. The final will have marshmallows, caramel and chocolate.

LINDA COTE-Le Chocolatier Bea 3

Bea prepares the Easter Bunny mould, clipping the two halves together.

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Filling the bunny mould with milk chocolate from the tempering machine. You need just enough, but not too much, to make this hollow bunny.

LINDA COTE-Le Chocolatier Bea 5

Once filled, the mould is placed on a vibrating plate that takes the air bubbles out.

LINDA COTE-Le Chocolatier choc trays

A beautiful selection of hand-moulded chocolate characters. Color accents are added by hand before the chocolate is poured in the mould from the tempering machine. Crafted indeed!

Most days, John also crafts the chocolates, and Belinda creates the beautiful packaging and does the administration for the business. This month marks nine years in the chocolate business for the couple. They moved to Canmore from England after spending one day here and absolutely falling in love with this mountain town. In England, John was a chef and they owned a catering business so they were already familiar with the food business. But, the idea of becoming chocolatiers didn’t come until they moved here.

LINDA COTE-Le Chocolatier John orders

Today, John is filling chocolate cups with jelly beans.

Fate, it seemed, had something a little different planned for them. Soon after coming to Canmore, they met the original owner of Le Chocolatier and John remarked casually if she wanted to sell, he would be interested. Three months later, she called to say she was moving out of the country, and before they could catch their breath they found themselves proud owners of a chocolate-making business.

They began making 10 flavours of chocolate bars and six kinds of truffles in their basement. John’s passion, and his subsequent specialty chocolate training, led to the expansion of the company. In November 2005, Le Chocolatier moved into a customized chocolate-making factory and retail store. Today, they continue to make local chocolates by hand, but also sell wholesale to stores throughout Alberta, and supply the prestigious Canadian Fairmont hotel chain across Canada.

It’s a busy life for the couple, but clearly they have fun in business together. As I ask who does the beautiful packaging, Belinda says, “I do…” and John cuts her off and says, “And, I do everything else!” She rolls her eyes and he laughs, then he says, “I couldn’t do the packaging because men don’t have that chip in their brain that lets them do bows.”

LINDA COTE-Le Chocolatier packaging

A sample of Belinda’s beautiful packaging (and bows!) for their truffles.

LINDA COTE-Le Chocolatier Easter Choc

A selection of packaged treats. All the cellophane packaging is made to biodegrade in 24 months. Luckily, this chocolate never lasts that long!

When I ask to take a photo of them together, John sneakily puts his fingers in the rabbit ear shape behind Belinda’s head. She swats him playfully. They both laugh, and I can certainly tell where the fun you see throughout their store comes from.

LINDA COTE-Le Chocolatier John & Belinda1

John and Belinda goofing around in the back of the shop.

LINDA COTE-Le Chocolatier John & ;Belinda2

Having fun is a big part of this couple’s business.

John explains, “Lots of the creative process is working alone. You have to enjoy what you do, and having a sense of humor really helps. If you can’t play, you can’t be creative.”

Their chocolate labels give you a sense of this impishness. Promoting their chocolate bar “Almond Avalanche” on their website, they say “You’ll beg to be buried!”. They also sell chocolate CDs, moose-shaped lollipops, even milk chocolate body paint with a label that asks you to “Embrace your inner artist”.

LINDA COTE-Le Chocolatier bars

Handmade chocolate bars on display, including their best seller “Take a Hike” bar. (My favorite is the Dark Cappuccino Crisp.)

LINDA COTE-Le Chocolatier orders

Belinda packages bonbons from the trays of assorted chocolates.

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Yummy treats placed lovingly in packages, ready for consumption.

John says another passion for them is creating traditions and memories. “We have people who come back every year for the same chocolate egg, that special chocolate Christmas Santa, or one of our chocolate-filled edible champagne bottles. In a time when traditions seem to be falling away, we’re thrilled to be in a business where traditions are so important.”

LINDA COTE-Le Chocolatier champagne

The best-selling champagne bottle, filled with chocolates. From the retail store, you can always see through the window to where the chocolate-makers create their pieces.

One day earlier this year when I was in the shop, a woman came in and bought a heaping box of Le Chocolatier treats to take back to Japan with her. John and Belinda have heard that in Japan, it’s a tradition to bring a small present back from a trip for friends and family. John and Belinda love that their chocolates are being enjoyed around the world.

“We’re so pleased living here in Canmore,” they said. “We have such good friends, and a lovely family to keep us balanced. It’s busy running a small family business like this, but we always try to find time to take a day off every week with our kids, and recharge by enjoying the mountains and activities the kids are involved in.”

“And,” John adds with a twinkle, “we get to work around chocolate every day. How could you improve on that?”

LINDA COTE-Le Chocolatier tempering

The tempering machine with dark chocolate. You can see through to the retail store, too, so staff can come out to help customers, even if they are making chocolates.

LINDA COTE-Le Chocolatier interior1

Le Chocolatier’s retail store is inviting, with temptations everywhere you look.

LINDA COTE-Le Chocolatier building

The outside of the retail store and factory. On a clear day, you get a stunning view of Canmore’s surrounding mountains.

For more information on Le Chocolatier, and an online shop of their chocolates, visit www.lechocolatier.ca.

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12 responses to “Passion (and a taste for fun) drives local chocolate makers

  1. This is an “evil” post. I only made it half way through the blog post before I went in search of my “emergency chocolate”. It looks like a place to stop at if we are ever in Canmore during business hours.

    • Haha, deb! Yes, it is hard. They sell my greeting cards and sometimes I eat chocolate before I go in to restock them so I won’t be tempted!! 🙂 Very addicting place!

      • I thought I saw a display rack of cards in the background. You must keep very busy with your printmaking.

      • Yes 🙂 I’m lucky to have a few really good places that sell my cards, and a couple places that sell my prints and cards together. I love having my cards at Le Chocolatier. It’s a great pairing: chocolates and greeting cards!

  2. Hi Linda
    Great article, we are from Australia & are privileged to know John, Belinda & family personally please give our loving thoughts to them all.
    Di, Keith Fidler & Jo (Young)

  3. Thanks for your article on this chocolate shop! It is now on my list of places to visit as I continue to develop my own chocolate blog. And I am very interested in seeing your prints. I have a very creative family who are always looking for unique items so I would love to share with them.

    • Thanks for stopping by (and reblogging!). Le Chocolatier is a great place to visit! The owners are happy to share their passion for chocolate — you must come (and try the Dark Cappuccino Crisp chocolate bar — my personal favorite)!

      And, when you do get here, Le Chocolatier carries my handmade art cards in their shop, and my art studio is just down the road from them. I would welcome a visit if you’re in Canmore!

      In the meantime, you can check out my art prints at http://www.lindacote.ca where there’s also links to Facebook, and my YouTube videos. I look forward to checking out your blog, too!

  4. Reblogged this on Purple Chocolate Eaters and commented:
    I recently did a post on Le Chocolatier’s Canmore Mountain Treat. Through that post, I met Linda and read the blog post below. It made me want to go to this store on my chocolate adventure. I hope you enjoy this post as much as I did. Thank you Linda for allowing me to reblog.

    • Thanks for the reblog! That is great. Spreading the chocolate love is always a good thing!

      • You are very welcome! It was an awesome post. Spreading the chocolate love is my mission….

  5. Pingback: PASSION (AND A TASTE FOR FUN) DRIVES LOCAL CHOCOLATE MAKERS - Purple Chocolate Eaters·

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