Guittard Chocolate Co. products have been a favorite amongst American chocolate lovers since the mid-1800s—as well as a long-standing favorite of ours for more than forty years. Williams-Sonoma has a long-standing history with Guittard: the relationship first began in the early 1970s, when founder Chuck Williams began carrying Guittard’s iconic 10-pound chocolate bars in his original store on Sutter Street in San Francisco. Eventually, Guittard became the exclusive supplier for a number of seasonal confections, including The Original Peppermint Bark, Peppermint Bark Cookies, and Williams-Sonoma Sticky Paws. And this season, we’ve partnered with them yet again to create new, exclusive quick bread mixes crafted with Guittard cocoa, as well as artisan-quality baking chocolate.
Our team traveled to Guittard’s chocolate factory in Burlingame, CA, to tour the factory and catch up with Amy Guittard who, in addition to being a fifth-generation Guittard family member, also heads marketing for the company. She shared the story behind her family’s chocolate, her thoughts on what sets Guittard chocolate apart, and what it’s like to grow up in a chocolate factory.
Guittard Chocolate Co. is a San Francisco Bay Area institution that’s been around for nearly 150 years. What’s the story behind it?
Amy Guittard: My great-great-grandfather, Etienne Guittard, founded the company in 1868. He came from France looking for gold and brought chocolate with him to trade for mining supplies. When he got here, he realized he had more luck selling chocolate than he would mining for gold. He went back to France, finessed his skills, and then came back to San Francisco and opened doors on Sansome Street. We made chocolate, but we also did spices, teas, coffees. Once the 1906 earthquake burned the majority of the city down, that’s when we consolidated down to just making chocolate. After the earthquake, we moved our factory to Main Street. The city decided to build a freeway over that factory, and that moved us down to Burlingame around 1954. We’ve been making chocolate here ever since.
My dad is the current President and CEO. He was working with his father and brother for many years, and in 1988, my grandfather passed away from Lou Gehrig’s disease. In 1989, six months later, my uncle passed away. My dad was moved into a different sort of role very quickly, and a lot of the people who are here today were with him during that time. We talk about Guittard as a family business, but we’re also a family business in terms of our employees, our suppliers and our customers. We really do consider them the extended Guittard family.
Did you always know you wanted to be a part of the family business?
AG: When I was really young, I wanted to be a bus driver or a cheerleader. But I loved the idea of making something. Sometimes I’d do filing, but where I loved to be was on the science side of working with chocolate, working here in R&D. Out of school, I worked in brand management at Clif Bar for six years. I always wanted to be in food. I get very attached to the idea that this is an agricultural product; it comes from the earth.
I always talk about the artistic journey [of chocolate]. What the farmers do—how they cultivate, ferment and dry the beans—is an art. Then it comes to us, and we apply our own art to it. Then we hand it off to someone else, whether it’s a home baker or pastry chef or confectioner, and they apply their own art. Throughout the process, there’s this exponential value-add, where at the end, you have all these outpourings of artistry and you could only have such a beautiful product. It’s very humbling.
What do you think separates Guittard from the rest and makes it different from all the other chocolate companies out there?
AG: It’s not one factor. It’s the combination of our passion for quality, our inherent leadership in pushing the industry in new ways, and it’s about our inherent pull toward fostering relationships with our farmers, our employees and our customers.
I almost describe us as rebels in the industry. My dad is constantly on the hunt for innovative blends and different types of beans. However, he’s a purist when it comes to cocoa, making sure we’re keeping those heritage heirloom flavors that we’ve had forever.
As a Guittard, did you literally grow up in a chocolate factory?
AG: My grandfather’s house was very close to here. I remember we would go swing by Jack in the Box and grab burgers. We’d usually swing by and say hello to my dad, and then we’d go say hi to my grandfather. In the bean room, I would climb up on those bags and play around. My dad, grandfather and uncle all shared what is now my dad’s office, and I remember very clearly running from the factory into the office and having them all there. It makes me very emotional when I think about that.
So do you just eat chocolate for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
AG: I have a very, very, very big sweet tooth. I probably start eating chocolate at like 9:00 in the morning. Sometimes I’ll have a little chocolate protein powder. We have nonpareils here that I eat like popcorn if I need a little pick-me-up. Sometimes I’ll eat chocolate instead of lunch. I always have to have dessert.
What does someone who lives chocolate order for dessert? Will you go for the chocolate soufflé?
AG: I am a sucker for fruit desserts, like a fruit galette, but I always have to also order chocolate. So maybe the fair thing to say is I’m a two-desserter. You need a palate-cleanser!
Chocolate Lightning Round
Okay, Amy: It’s time for our chocolate lightning round! First things first: dark or milk chocolate?
Fudgy or cakey brownies?
Crisp or chewy?
Hot chocolate or chocolate shake?
AG: Tie? One in the morning, one at night!
Chocolate with wine or chocolate with beer?
AG: Chocolate with wine.
Classic or new Willy Wonka movie?
AG: I love Johnny Depp, but classic! Hands down.