For the Love of Chocolate

The taste, the look, the feel of an obsession

Rick Bristow: In the Mood

These days, Rick Bristow is one happy guy, as well as a consummate salesperson and entrepreneur; he's really glad to see you and serenely confident that you'll love his product as much as he does. Bristow is the visionary, owner, developer, and promoter of the new Austin-based, enigmatically named SXUL Chocolate, and business couldn't be better. (Pronunciation hint: Forget skull, jool, or school and recall the name of one of Eddie Murphy's character's really bad band in Coming to America.)

SXUL Chocolate is one sensuous product: a darkly intense, French-style bonbon; a two-bite-sized, hand-molded mound of creamy chocolate ganache surrounded by a glossy chocolate shell. It has two selling points: its outrageously good taste and the fact that it has been "enhanced with additional feel-good things that naturally occur in chocolate," i.e., chocolate's chemical components that trigger endorphin release in the brain.

Bristow's bonbons have been on the market only four months, but they've been a very long time in the works. A Missouri native, Bristow says he always wanted to be an entrepreneur. He developed real estate in St. Louis, and then worked in the Missouri and Virginia wine industries. He moved into enhanced soft drinks and marketed a caffeinated drink called Nitro Water.

While visiting Austin in 1994, Bristow fell in love with it and relocated here to introduce Nitro Water to the Southwest. However, the subsequent high tech bust made investment money scarce, and then he came down with a debilitating illness that sidelined him for more than a year. Upon recovery, he was ready to move on out of beverages, and chocolate seemed to be in the stars.

"I saw opportunities for handmade boutique chocolate, something like Napa wine in the early days," he says. "I visualized my product, and I knew the power of chocolate with consumers, but I didn't know how to go about it – this was a new demographic for me. I talked with Pam Teich, the president of Lammes Candies. I found Dr. Chocolate in the phone book, and they had the facilities and the space for me to work.

"I did research and product development with a graduate of the French Culinary Institute who had studied with Jacques Torres, the New York City chocolatier. It took us a year to develop the formula we wanted."

Next, the Dr. Chocolate people connected Bristow with local chocolate-maker Ginger Berryhill. They refined the formula and took the recipe from a 2-pound experimental batch to production-sized levels. "I had no idea," he sighs, "how complicated that would be." Berryhill now makes the chocolates daily with a Texas Culinary Academy assistant.

"I wouldn't be in business today without Ginger," Bristow says. "I enjoy interacting with people, so I'm the perfect guy to sell it, and Ginger is the perfect person to make it."

The saga continues. "Miles Compton [see p.53] advised me to take my chocolates to Grape Vine Market. Ike Johnson liked them, and I started doing demos there on October 1, 2004. In three weeks, it became the top-selling item in the store. Can you believe it?

"My marketing strategy is to put chocolate in people's mouths," Bristow continues. "In the Seventies, I saw Wally Amos [Famous Amos] giving people cookies on the street in Hollywood, and I never forgot that lesson. I don't think I've sold a box yet without people tasting it first. And my observation is that men like chocolate as much as women do."

So how happy is Rick Bristow? "I'm in heaven," he says. Must be all that enhanced chocolate.


SXUL Chocolate is available at Grape Vine Market, or order it online at www.sxulchocolate.com.

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