“This is where design meets delicious,” says Kevin Toohey, co-owner with his wife Laura, of Burlington-based Nū Chocolat.
In French, “nū” means “naked,” and, Kevin says, “we're bringing the naked taste of chocolate to Vermont. That's really what we're trying to do.”
The Tooheys opened their retail boutique and café on Battery Street near Main in 2019, but they have been making chocolate since the 1980s. Kevin trained with a world-renowned chocolatier in St. Louis, who took him through a very deliberate, European style of apprenticeship in all the culinary arts.
“We have a unique historical perspective of lineage,” Kevin says, “because we're coming from Swiss training that goes back a few hundred years. And then we have a lot of European technology…”
They combine this with as many locally sourced ingredients as they can. “The honeys and herbs and spices and different things that we're able to get locally,” Kevin says, “really lift the quality of the product up. But that's just, admission into the game… Then we have to add quality design. The shop has to look nice. The packaging has to reflect the same quality, and we have to provide excellent customer service, right? And all of it, all of it is combined together to open your heart, right?”
It's all about opening hearts, Kevin says. “The way chocolate affects the human body is that it opens the cardiovascular system. You see chocolate on Valentine's Day – it's literally, at a chemical molecular level, opening the heart. And so, when people come in, they look around, they see the products, they sample stuff, and their heart really begins to open.”
Nū’s pristine production facility is directly behind the boutique. We watch, salivating, as a Belgian “robing”machine containing 80 kilos of silky, molten chocolate carefully robes a legion of exactingly-crafted ganaches to form compact, 22.5-millimeter square truffles.
Interestingly, in a manner befitting the company’s Swiss roots, everything about the boutique was sized up like building blocks from the dimensions of these square truffles – from the packaging of the boxes to the width of the display cases, to the size of the boutique itself.
Nū crafts a tongue-boggling range of deliciously flavored truffles, many beautifully decorated with colorful cocoa butter prints, as well as chocolate bars, dipped glazed oranges, the best cocoa-covered almonds you’ll ever eat, and so very much more.
Soon after the Tooheys opened their store (their children Virginia and Rowan also work in the business), COVID hit, and online sales soared. They continue to do a solid business in corporate gift sales, but Kevin revels in the person-to-person community that comes from running the boutique. As we chat at a front table, sampling truffles (#bestjobever), a middle-aged woman calls out to Kevin: “So great to see you again!”
That’s the difference that Nū offers in being a chef-owned and run chocolate boutique, Kevin says. He is very present here, and people get to know him. “She looks forward to seeing me when she comes in here. There is something beyond a product that’s exchanged that’s so valuable.”
But Kevin also believes in acting globally, and has used his chocolate expertise to consult with companies that are rebuilding communities and forests in Columbia through the resurrection of cocoa farming (to replace the pernicious coca farming that ends in cocaine).
Kevin and his family really enjoy the constantly evolving, creative process of making: “We've done this now for five years of adjusting, moving forward, always meticulously working with the recipes. And so it's always a very live, dynamic process for us. And it never ends. It just keeps going. That's fascinating!”
The Vermont Maker Project