Not only is the San Francisco Bay Area known for it’s natural beauty and entrepreneurial spirit, it’s also recognized for pioneering the organic food movement and producing a plethora of amazing artisanal food products. Banana Republic has been part of this progressive community for 35 years and in continuing the celebration of their anniversary, we are concluding our series with the duo behind a unique chocolate shop in Berkeley, CA called Casa de Chocolates.

Who is Casa de Chocolates: Casa de Chocolates was co-founded by us, Arcelia Gallardo and Amelia Gonzalez, in 2011. Arcelia (pictured on the right) has long been fascinated with the history of chocolate from the Olmecs first drinking it to the Spanish keeping it a secret for a century to all that Europe has done to it since then. She started making chocolate out of her home while selling online and she eventually approached me, Amelia (pictured on the left), to invest to create a production facility and retail location. We both share the same desire to combine the legacies of our Mesoamerican ancestors with our passion for Latino culture, arts and fine chocolates and desserts. We draw inspiration from traditional chocolates, desserts, flavors and images of Mexico, Central America and South America.

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Most popular flavor: When it comes to the bars, Chile Mango and the Mole bar are very popular. Our bonbons have become pretty renown and the Cajeta is really special because it is made with goat’s milk. Our chewy Brazilian Sea Salt is also very popular.

Flavor oops: Sometimes even when it doesn’t work out – it works out even better. We tried to make our Mole bonbon with mole that we brought back from Oaxaca and Puebla, both cities known for their mole. It just wasn’t working out. Finally Arcelia just replicated the chilies and spices and we ended up making our own mix that our customers love.

Chocolate design: We try to reflect a Latin American aesthetic or try to have the design reflect the ingredient. Or sometimes we just realize we want to play with a color. We’re playing with purple right now. We’ll see what comes of that!

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Traveling Latin America: We both are amazed at the rich heritage and flavors that Latin America has and we each have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel extensively in the region. Peru is growing in their chocolate production and that is fun to witness. Belize has been known to have quite a few small cooperatives that are interesting as they are providing a traditional model for cultivation of chocolate.  Yet, I think it’s fair to say that traveling to Mexico is our touchstone. As the title of Alice Walker’s book, it’s “The Temple Of Our Familiar.”

Unexplored territory: Venezuela would be a fun place to visit. There is so much going on in the chocolate world there – they Venezuelan cacao is some of the best cacao in the world!

First chocolate memory: With a doubt, as it is for most Mexicans, it is drinking your first cup of Mexican hot chocolate with cinnamon and sugar. It’s so delicious and unforgettable.

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Proudest achievement: Having Travel and Leisure surprise us with naming us one of the best sweet spots in the world as we opened our doors in 2012 was great!

The future: Expanding the reach of our chocolate would be great. Arcelia has her sights set on New York . . . stay tuned!

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(Amelia is wearing a Banana Republic Leaf Sheared Blouse, Red Coated Skinny Ankle Jean & Alana Ballet Flat; Arcelia is wearing a Banana Republic Pleated V-Neck TopHeringbone Pant, Croc Embossed Belt & Nina Pump; photos by Kristen Loken)