Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Different Drum: Meet Michael and Jacky Recchiuti of Chocolate Lab

Michael and Jacky Recchiuti in the Chocolate lab, still under construction. 
Rumors that Michael and Jacky Recchiuti, owners of the much loved Recchiuti Confections, would be opening a cafe near their Dogpatch offices were swirling in the SF food world long before the signs went up in the window proclaiming that Chocolate Lab would soon open.

But then nothing much happened in the former home of Piccino Cafe who had vacated the blue building for a much brighter hued building down the block.  Anticipation mounted as another SF favorite opened in the spot.  Danette and Eric Scheib of local clothing company Lemon Twist opened a temporary home there.  But when the Recchiuti's opened their Little Nib shop a few short steps down the block -- we all wondered when the cafe would finally debut. 

Turns out Little Nib is an occasional pop-up shop featuring a selection of their boxed chocolates and other confections.  And maybe it is also a staging area for the larger Chocolate Lab that is finally under construction at the corner of 22nd and Tennessee and slated to open this September.

Chocolate Lab will have chocolate desserts and confections as well as other classic pastries, ice cream and a savory menu of sandwiches, charcuterie and cheeses as well as coffee, wine and beer. 

We spoke with Jacky and Michael as electricians strode in and out of the space and the building landlord buzzed around purposefully.  As soon as Michael and Jacky arrived, residents and merchants alike appeared almost as if they had been watching the space for any Recchiuti sightings.  All wanted just a quick word with them and we felt like we were handling rock stars as we pulled them away from the interested onlookers.

Well, they are certainly culinary rock stars but ones that don't mind working hard to realize their vision of what they want Chocolate Lab to be when it finally opens its doors to their many fans.  And their excitement at showing off what they think is particularly cool and novel about the space --  like the bank of ovens mounted on a rolling cart to the unusual hand dryer in the bathroom -- make them seem more like a couple just starting their first company than the owners of a world renowned chocolate company.

Why do you do what you do?

JR:

We have wanted to do something like this for a long time.  Although Michael is known as the chocolate guy he is first and foremost a pastry chef.  I think people often forget that.  He has been a teacher at a culinary school and has been at the forefront of many pastry trends.  Chocolate Lab will give him a venue where he can create both classic and new pastry offerings.

I'm the creative director of the company and working on this space has really given me a chance to use my design and creative background.  I'm typically behind the scenes at our company working on branding, packaging and so on.  Although this space will of course parallel the branding we have done for Recchiuti Confections, it is a much bigger and more visible extension of our brand and in a way, allows me to think "outside the brand" in developing what this space will ultimately look like.  I'm fortunate and grateful that I have built a strong team so that I can spend the time needed to get this space just the way we want it.

I'm also excited to be working with a lot of local talented artists and designers -- Eric Heid is helping us design the space, the greenery will be from Flora Grubb, blown glass from Nate Watson and so on. 

We are going for a turn-of-the-century apothecary feel but in a contemporary way!

MR:

I have a passion to improve what I do even if it is in subtle ways and even if I'm the only one that notices. I believe in always trying to find better ways to do what you already do -- keep doing it over and over to get better.  I want to constantly learn and improve. 

Like our Ferry Building shop this will give me a way to test new chocolate confections.    Also I have felt a real pull to go back to the classics.  I hope to offer both traditional pastries as well as my new creations. 

This space is a mix of industrial darkness befitting its Dogpatch roots but is also light and airy as a modern cafe should be.  The floors are oak with an ebony finish and will have black steel baseboards.  The walls will be lined with elm wood and large mirrors will reflect back the natural light into the room.  We are trying to use as many repurposed items as possible -- the original exhaust hood from Piccino Cafe is still here as is their butcher-block counter, for example.

Why Dogpatch?

When we returned to San Francisco from the East Coast in 1997 the dot.com boom was in full boom.  We wanted to open our chocolate company but we couldn't afford anything!

The owner of the American Industrial Center, Greg Markoulis, made it possible for us to have a business here -- he took a chance on us.  He and his father did that for Joseph Schmidt, the original San Francisco chocolate maker and I think Greg felt good about taking a chance on us because of that connection.  He really connects with the passion and drive of his tenants.

We also live in Dogpatch.  We love the community of people in this neighborhood.  This is a place where you can be anything you want to be. 

Who is another fascinating person you have met in Dogpatch?

The artist Susan Eslick.  She is an amazing artist and knows all about the art scene in San Francisco.  But more than that -- she is a great and hilarious storyteller!

What is an interesting story that has happened to you in Dogpatch?

The day we moved into our apartment a guy dressed in a suit runs up to me and asks if I'm Michael Recchiuti.  When I tell him, "yes, that's me" -- he runs to his apartment and brings me a bottle of champagne to welcome us to the neighborhood.  Turns out he had just gotten married but he took the time to give us a bottle of champagne!

I think this story really speaks to the welcoming feeling of this neighborhood.  Of course, I had to make him wait while I ran in the house to give him a box of chocolate!

What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?

JR:

I would be a ceramicist!  I'm just getting into it but I love it.  I would do everything from bowls to sculptures.

MR:

I would be playing the drums and giving music the time it needs to get really good at it.


Ok, we love the name Chocolate Lab.  Is there a story behind the name?

Well, the kitchen is Michael's laboratory and there are dogs in Dogpatch....













 




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