KINGSVILLE — The Dutch Boys Chocolate shop in Kingsville is for sale, but with any future deal there will be an interesting side agreement.
The owners — Henry Noestheden and Cor Boon — will stay on for three months to train the new owner in the art of making fine chocolate.
“There may be people interested in the chocolate world but they are not formally trained,” Noestheden said. “What we do here is unique, we carve our own objects and we make our own moulds so we would show people how to carve, how to make moulds so you can do independent things and not buy stuff online like everybody else.”
And most importantly, Noestheden and Boon would guide the new owner through the simple yet precise process of how to make delicious chocolate.
Noestheden and Boon follow a minimalist approach: It’s not how much one puts into a batch of chocolate, it’s how little.
Each ingredient, Noestheden said, must be the best available — the best cocoa, the best butter, the best cream, the best filling.
“It’s a very simple formula, but when you edit at that level, everything has to be just right,” Noestheden said.
The mixture of the cocoa, butter and cream must be heated and cooled to the right temperature so the chocolate has the right blend of texture, taste and surface sheen. Fortunately, Noestheden and Boon use a tempering machine that regulates temperature automatically, leaving out a lot of the tedium and guesswork.
Noestheden said any buyer would take over a business that sells chocolate primarily in Canada, but also in United States and, on occasion, Australia. “We are basically a Canadian business,” he said.
Boon said high-quality chocolate, in good times or bad, always sells. He said it is a luxury item that is still affordable because it can be purchased in small quantities.
“It’s something that makes a person feel just a little bit better about themselves, whether receiving it, and a hell of a lot better when you are the one giving it as a gift,” he said.
Boon said chocolate must be made by hand to ensure high quality. He speaks from experience.
“I was a sales engineer … in processing and packaging … and I’ve been in every chocolate factory in North America and I was aghast at what I saw being done to chocolate,” he said.
“Chocolate doesn’t like to be automated … chocolate needs to be moved by very gentle prodding and moving that does not change the crystalline structure … automation literally destroys the delicate fabric of chocolate,” he said.
Dutch Boys chocolate is 54.5 percent cocoa, which is a lower percentage than most of the dark chocolate made in Europe.
“It hits the perfect mark for the North American palate,” Noestheden said. “It’s not bitter. North American palates feel the taste of bitters is medicinal or a punishment of some sort. In Europe they look for (bitterness),” he said.
In 2017 — the year the chocolate store opened on Main Street West — the shop caught the attention of travel writer Jim Byers and was awarded the honour of Best Chocolate in Canada.
Noestheden said the pandemic has presented challenges — downtown Kingsville is not as busy — but noted the shop was able to double its online orders.
Both Noestheden and Boon are the sons of Dutch immigrants who arrived in Canada after the Second World War. Their families settled in Windsor
.Noestheden started out as an art teacher at Marlbourgh Public School in Windsor, realized he wanted to create his own art, went to art school, studied at the Carnegie-Mellon School of Art in Pittsburgh and later moved to New York.
“I lived in Soho in the early days, really wonderful, and I was a sculptor there,” he said.
He remembers walking along Madison Avenue, stopping in front of a chocolate shop and seeing a sculpture of a ballerina’s leg, toes en pointe, cast from chocolate.
“I said I could do that, what a great way to augment my living,” he said. “I did all the investigation, the research, and decided it was too complicated, too difficult. It was a lot to know and lot to do.”
Fast forward 12 years: Noestheden, now a successful lamp and fixture designer, is living in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“I said, ‘Oh, great place to do chocolate,’ but again too complicated, too difficult.”
In 2010, he moved back to Canada and settled in Kingsville.
He and Boon met, started discussing business ideas and working on projects together. They began making high-end children’s toys but abandoned the business when the currency exchange rates made importing parts from the United States too expensive.
And for the third time, the idea of making chocolate emerged. This time, the circumstances were right.
“You stop the toy business, and the next day we started on chocolate, just like that, boom.” Noestheden said. “It took us about a year and half to get ready, all the equipment, carvings, how to make the moulds work, build our machinery, set up the system.”
Both men have a machinery background — Boon worked for a custom packaging company — and when faced with the cost of importing a $25,000 machine from Italy to ensure the chocolate inside the moulds blends evenly, they made their own rotator for a tenth of the price.
Boon is also an award-winning bird carver — an asset when making moulds.
Noestheden, 72, said if he and Boon, 79, were younger they’d keep the business and likely expand to Guelph, Stoney Creek and Cambridge.
“We talked about another three stores,” said Boon. “The production facility we established here in Kingsville is perfectly suited to double what we are currently doing.”
But with time marching on, both men want to move on to new challenges. They don’t intend on being idle. They still have goals they want to achieve.
Noestheden wants to split his time between Kingsville and the Netherlands. He’s looking to make interactive greeting cards out of his Division North apartment and design and make ceramics in Delft, the home to Delft Blue ceramic pottery.
Boon is looking to retire to Nova Scotia with his Standard poodles, make art and buy an old lobster boat.
Something the pair of Dutch-Canadians won’t be able to sell to a new owner is the old-world charm they exude when serving a customer.
But Boon said he can work on salesmanship with any buyer. One of the many hats he has worn during his career was working as a corporate sales trainer for Nordson, a multinational corporation based in Atlanta.
“I will take anyone and mould them into an excellent salesperson in a matter of a few weeks,” he said.
Boon stresses the importance of not letting age get in the way of trying new things, trying new ventures and expanding one’s horizons.
“I have two children and I’m not relying on them for anything,” he said. “I want to do what I absolutely love doing and that’s No. 1, my poodles, No. 2, making beautiful objects and No. 3, the boating.”
Both Boon and Noestheden said Kingsville has a unique downtown with an eclectic mix of fine restaurants, brew pubs, specialty shops, bakeries, an independent coffee shop and a butcher. They said they want the chocolate shop to continue being part of the downtown mix.
“This business has become an important part of the community,” Noestheden said.
Noestheden and Boon prefer to keep their asking price for the chocolate shop private.
“The value of the business is less than the cost of a condo in Kingsville,” Noestheden said.