“I had to come out! Baltimore doesn’t get many events like this!” This sentiment, shared by one gleeful shopper at the Charm School Chocolate Spring Pop-Up Shop this past weekend, is echoed throughout Baltimore’s vegan community. Folks here are hungry for more vegan happenings; and they’re hungry for vegan chocolate.
While Baltimore has a dedicated core of vegan individuals, a handful of plant-based businesses, and a few choice veg-friendly events throughout the year, they city’s vegan scene is still in its chrysalis. But that’s clearly changing.
This past weekend, Baltimore’s one and only bean-to-bar vegan chocolate company, Charm School Chocolate, pulled together a two-day pop-up shop in Fells Point. By all counts, it was an overwhelming success. Customers—both the new and the loyal—showed up in droves, chocolate flew off the shelves, and the vegan community came together to demonstrate support.
Motivations: Why a Chocolate Pop-Up?
As consumers, do we *really* need to know the reason behind a chocolate pop-up? Honestly, I think the eating-lots-of-chocolate part is what’s most important. I simply cared about the improved access to delicious vegan chocolate. The takeaway value for me is mouth-wateringly tangible, and that takeaway currently sits happily in my belly. But for a Baltimore-based vegan business, a pop-up serves another purpose.
Presently, Charm School Chocolate sells their product in stores across the nation, but they have no storefront of their own. “For a long time, we’ve been dreaming of a brick and mortar place to experience our thoughtfully crafted vegan chocolate,” explains Charm School Chocolate founder and chocolate maker, Josh Rosen. “We’ve certainly gotten to share our story at tons of festivals, but there’s nothing quite like inviting people into our home and making their days a little brighter.”
Charm School Chocolate saw the pop-up as a chance to welcome the Baltimore community to their chocolate factory. “We typically rely on other retailers to sell our bars,” said Josh, “but after hearing countless customer requests for a place to buy directly from us, we wanted to give a storefront a try.” And just in time for Easter goodies. The pop-up afforded Charm School Chocolate the opportunity to sell more delicate chocolates which couldn’t be kept on supermarket shelves.
Customers who visited the shop were greeted by wafting aromas of cocoa (free cocoa bean shells for your gardens or votive holders, anyone?). And making the shop all the more cozy, decorating the walls was a gallery of photographs capturing Charm School’s chocolate-making process, punctuated by a whimsical balloon installation created by Sentimental Fools Events.
In addition to Charm School Chocolate’s eight chocolate bars from their core line and jars of their Vanilla Cappuccino Crunch and Toffee Almond Bites, the pop-up featured limited edition items, like white chocolate hot cocoa, Easter bunnies, white and milk chocolate eggs, and two delectable candy bars. If you follow Charm School’s social media, you were teased by images of these treats for the week leading up to the event, so hopefully you had a chance to snag some before they sold out!
As a bonus for Saturday visitors, Charm School Chocolate was joined by friends Justin Leonard and Karla Goodson of the animal-welfare-driven craft coffee roaster, Brewing Good Coffee Company. Brewing Good Coffee Co., another Maryland business, is the world’s first craft roaster of organic, fair trade, Rainforest Alliance and Bird-Friendly coffees—and proceeds from every sale support animal protection with a donation to a different group each month. At their table, customers could purchase hot coffee, roasts, and teas.Chocolate and coffee, what a pair!?
Seeing the pop-up as an opportunity to test the waters for a Charm School Chocolate retail shop, Josh was hopeful for the turnout. “We went into the weekend with an open mind. We love making our chocolate and confections, so any chance to share them is a win for us.”
Nevertheless, they really weren’t sure what to expect. The space was locked down late in the game, so marketing for the event began just a week out—which certainly made predicting the pop-up’s reception even more dubious.
Despite just a week’s notice, the shop did exceedingly well. Turnout approached 400 visitors over the span of two days. Many visitors were already vegan and somewhat familiar with Charm School Chocolate. But the shop also welcomed a variety of new customers, including passersby who were curious to investigate the signs beckoning “chocolate pop-up”.
“This is vegan!?” People asked with bewilderment—new customers, created on the spot! “I must get something for my wife! She loves white chocolate,” proclaimed one of a pair of men who popped in after brunch across the street.
Furthermore, many customers were pleased to learn that not only is Charm School’s line dairy-free, the items were also soy-free and carrageenan-free. And all the bars and candy bars sold at the pop-up were also nut-free. It’s no wonder that more than a few visitors demanded, “I’ll take one of everything!”
Certainly, with limited lead-in time, it was challenging to predict the turnout. But it was a tremendous surprise to discover visitors were drawn from places like Virginia, D.C., and Pennsylvania, but also as far as Alabama, California, and even Canada! Stacey Burgess, the owner of Toronto-based Live on Chocolate, found out about the event and immediately bought her plane ticket. She was first in line at the shop on Saturday afternoon, and Josh and Stacey got to talking.
“I first had Charm School Chocolate in 2015 when a French woman was travelling the world in search of the best chocolate,” Burgess explained. “She contacted me for a tour and tasting and shared some of her discoveries; Charm School Chocolate Vanilla White was there and I was addicted!! It’s SO good!!”
The overall demand was no joke. Folks who couldn’t come or lived too far were commenting on Instagram, “will you be selling these online?”
leavesandflours: I guess I have to drive to Baltimore this weekend
Abandonchocolate: what’s a guy gotta do to get some of these delish bars mailed
berries_n_greens: 😍😍 How can someone who used to live in Maryland and knows and loves your chocolates get these new bars in North Carolina?? Asking for a friend…
endless_wanderingsoul: How dare you only have this available at one location!!!! 😭😭😭 Send some to me!
Alas, weekend visitors cleaned up shop! Charm School sold out of all their limited edition items. Every special candy bar was sold by mid-day on Sunday, along with the bunnies, leaving a mere handful of Easter eggs and a spatula for scraping the bottom of the hot cocoa pot. For that, I think it’s safe to say Charm School Chocolate is pleased.
“Thank you SOOO much to the hundreds of people who came out to support us,” Josh wrote on the Charm School Chocolate Instagram. From Stacey, who flew down from Toronto just for the weekend, Josh noted, “to the numerous neighborhood businesses who stopped by just to tell us they ‘wouldn’t be upset if we decided to stay a bit longer,’ we’re utterly humbled and grateful.”
Between the coffee and the chocolate, what was there not to love!? Brewing Good Coffee Co. had a great time on Saturday, too. “We loved seeing friends and introducing new people to our coffee and our mission. Talking about and, most importantly, enjoying good coffee while surrounded by chocolate bunnies… it was our perfect Saturday! And all our sales supported a spay-neuter project in an under-served community in Mexico.”
The perfect Saturday, indeed!
So, what’s next on the horizon? I asked Josh. Charm School is riding the high from the pop-up, and exploring opportunities for a more permanent solution. As for whether or not we can expect another chocolate pop-up in the future…
“More community events!” Josh proclaimed, “after this past weekend, we think it’s abundantly clear that our hometown would like to see a lot more of us and we’re thrilled to make that happen.” This is good news all around! Charm School gets to test more product and we, as consumers, get to enjoy the fruits of their labor. “It would be awesome when the day comes Charm School has a permanent brick and mortar shop, selling all sorts of bars and confections!!” Stacey commented. “Can’t wait and I’ll be there for sure!!!”
Our little corner of the country has its share of vegan gems. From Brewing Good Coffee company, who not only roasts stellar coffee but also donates 10% of all proceeds to animal protection nonprofits, to Charm School Chocolate who sources cacao that meets only the highest standards…we’ve got a good thing going.
Certainly, Baltimore’s chocolate lovers and vegans are incredibly fortunate to have Charm School Chocolate. When I first tried the Coconut Milk Chocolate bar two years ago, I was absolutely blown away! Typically, vegan milk chocolate on the market is a bit of a disappointment, particularly when compared to our recollections from pre-vegan days. And white chocolate, just in general, can often be overly sweet. That couldn’t be farther from the truth with Charm School’s lines. One bite of their bars and you’ll be hooked. And you’ve gotta appreciate their commitment to doing things right! As Stacey notes, “it’s hard to find companies who are both vegan and care about the farmers, too. Josh has a wonderful passion and skill.”
So hopefully you had a chance to make it to the pop-up. In case you couldn’t, you can find Charm School Chocolate’s bars in stores across the country and order from their website.
As for Brewing Good Coffee Company, you can purchase their fuel from their website, order a subscription (lovers of coffee and convenience, rejoice!), find them in stores like Roots Market, or even order a cuppa at restaurants across the nation, like No Bones Beach Club in Seattle! You can also go straight to their roastery at Historic Savage Mill, 20 miles southwest of Baltimore in Howard County.
But wait, there’s more!!