Charlottesville’s favorite chocolate shop is branching out.
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Courtesy of Gearharts
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Courtesy of Gearharts
While his 11-year-old peers were playing baseball or skateboarding, young Tim Gearhart was pursuing another passion: food. Though not from an especially “foodie” family, Gearhart developed an early taste for things out of the ordinary. That included fare from a coffee shop near his home at the time in San Francisco. He fondly remembers making the trek, alone, just to get himself a baguette.
Thirty years later and 3,000 miles to the east, with a culinary education and a string of demanding pastry chef positions under his belt, Gearhart is chocolatier at the successful store he opened in 2001 with business partner and restaurant owner Bill Hamilton: Gearhart's Fine Chocolates. Since its inception, the shop met with an eager and supportive clientele. It quickly became a mainstay of Charlottesville’s Main Street Market. Later, Gearhart and Hamilton opened a second shop in Richmond in an upscale shopping area in Richmond's West End.
But that’s all beside the point, really. Let’s talk about the chocolate—say, their bestselling Maya truffle. This chunky, cocoa-dusted treat releases three different flavors as soon as you pop it in your mouth—a bit of heat from ancho chile, the cosy warmth of cinnamon and, the capper, essence of sunny, pungent orange. The Maya is a traditional undipped truffle—meaning it has no chocolate “jacket” to preserve it. It must be consumed fresh to hit its intended flavor notes. Because Gearharts is small and makes its products daily, that can be done. “It’s a great window into what sets us apart,” says Gearhart. “We’re small, and we can maintain that artisan edge.”
Gearhart and Hamilton do most of their business through the storefront locations, but they do distribute some products to local retailers. Carrie Ganoe, a specialty team leader at Whole Foods in Charlottesville, says of Gearhart's chocolate, “I can’t keep it in stock. They use quality products, and their things are made locally. They’re great about talking with consumers and finding out what people want.” GearhartsChocolates.com
Get a Taste
If you find yourself elsewhere in the state with a chocolate craving, check out two other artisan chocolatiers whose products are made fresh in small batches, with quality ingredients, and sold in their own storefront locations: Artisan Confections in Arlington and Fairfax, and Cocoa Mill in Lexington and Staunton.