OLD TOWN — The chocolate shop under construction at 1651 N. Wells St. sits just south of a Flywheel fitness studio and just north of a juice bar, which, if you ask Kim Hack, is the ideal spot.
"You go get a juice so you have energy for your workout, and then you come here and treat yourself because you had a good workout," Hack said.
"Here" is Cocoa + Co., Hack's 1,000-square-foot shop and cafe that, when it opens — early May by Hack's estimate — will be stocked with chocolate from around the world, in all its various forms.
That means drinking chocolate; bonbons made by more than 35 chocolatiers from Amsterdam to Vermont, and confections made specifically for the shop by Bucktown's Veruca Chocolates. Among Veruca's creations: chocolate-enrobed S'mores Stacks and Peanut Butter Bombs, filled with salted peanut butter ganache.
S'Mores Stacks are among the custom treats being made by Veruca Chocolates for Cocoa + Co. [Jennifer Marx Photography]
Another of the cafe's signature items, Bliss Bites, is sort of like a cupcake frosting shot — an oversized porcelain soup spoon filled with your choice of nuts and/or dried fruit and melted chocolate, downed on the spot. It's $2.50 a spoon, or three for $6.25.
"It's an immediate chocolate rush," Hack said.
To fill the pastry cases, Hack is keeping it local with baked goods from her Chicago pastry chef friends: salted caramel brownies, cookies and chocolate banana bread from Tru's Gale Gand and chocolate-flecked scones and granola by Malika Ameen of ByMDesserts.
The shop's two non-chocolate items — pretzel croissants from the Pilsen bakery Beurrage and almond biscotti made from Hack's recipe by Janet Lee of Flour Cake and Pastry, who works out of the Veruca Chocolates kitchen — happen to pair well with drinking chocolate.
Cocoa + Co. will sell brownies and cookies by acclaimed pastry chef Gale Gand. [Jennifer Marx Photography]
Hack is a familiar name in the foodie community. The former ad agency art director has been active in the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Food and Wine and is a founding member of Chicago-based SloFIG, an acronym for Sustainable Local Food Investment Group. She's been known to go on pastry crawls with Gand, Ameen and other chefs.
Hack isn't new to the chocolate business, either. In 2003, she started a Cocoa + Co. website and online shop as a side project to her marketing job in the wine industry. Wine and chocolate are more alike than they are different, she said.
Plans to open a physical shop didn't materialize then, but while Hack pulled the plug on the website, she hung on to the concept and looked at potential storefronts periodically over two years.
The day Homemade Pizza Co. announced its closure, Hack said she called her real estate agent to find out more about three of the pizza chain's locations, including the Wells Street site she ultimately landed. For years, Hack lived one block away; she now commutes from Winnetka.
The bean-to-bar chocolate movement has exploded in the decade or so since Cocoa + Co.'s first iteration, with producers focused on terroir and technique to distinguish themselves from mass-market offerings.
"They're constantly inventing flavor combinations and building stronger relationships at the source and getting better beans," Hack said.
"Who knew Vietnam grew cacao? It's just so exciting what they're doing," she said.
She said she wants to develop Cocoa + Co. as a testing ground of sorts for local chocolatiers and pastry chefs, "a place where they can bring in stuff they're excited about." She'll rotate the selection and said she's seeking out more chefs to showcase, in particular those who produce on a small scale.
Cocoa + Co. will be open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.
The rotating pastry selection at Cocoa + Co. includes chef Malika Ameen's chocolate granola and scones. [Jennifer Marx Photography]
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