JOSEPH - Erica Reininger wants to make her customers healthy and happy.
In the summer months, she keeps them healthy with organic produce she sells at the Wallowa County Farmers Markets. In winter she and her family make them happy by selling chocolate and coffee at Arrowhead Chocolates in Joseph.
The newly opened chocolate and coffee shop is a din of activity. County residents poke their heads in to see what all the fuss is about while others bring their laptops and meet with friends over mochas and
Two weeks ago 80 people on a Christmas shopping trip from
La Grande visited the shop and they've been steadily busy ever since, said Wendy Reininger, Erica's mother and co-owner of the shop.
Arrowhead Chocolates are made from the best organic chocolate available, Wendy said. Her husband, Bruce, met a Switzerland-trained chocolatier and apprenticed with him before opening their chocolate shop in Bend. They ran the shop for a couple years before they found a piece of property fitting their needs on Alder Slope and moved to Northeast Oregon.
"Bruce has an affinity for making chocolate," Wendy said. "He's detail-oriented and very creative."
Wendy said some of their specialties are a tiramisu truffle and a hot chili truffle.
"The tongue catches the heat of the fire salt on the surface of the chili truffle while the heat of the chili is felt in the back of the throat," Wendy said.
Wendy said they are perfecting their caramel recipe and Erica said she wants to try out-of-the-ordinary confections like chocolate and basil.
"Part of the fun is experimenting," Erica said.
In the midst of the din of the cozy shop with its youthful, urban feel, Bruce tends to slices of crystallized ginger dipped in chocolate as they run over a conveyor belt. The chocolates cool before being boxed or set in a display cases. A variety of flavors can be sampled and purchased individually or by the box.
When Erica decided to relocate permanently from Portland to Wallowa County, her parents suggested they make chocolate to supplement their summer rental cabin business and farming. Wendy said
Erica suggested they serve
coffee and tea as well.
Erica chose to serve Stumptown Coffee and Fox Fire Tea, both Portland-based companies. In order to serve Stumptown coffee, one has to use a Stumptown coffee machine and each barista must be trained by the coffee company.
A few months ago Erica met Duncan Galvin who was working on a trail crew for the Forest Service out of Enterprise. When she discovered he had worked in a Stumptown coffee shop in Hood River, she offered him a job as a barista, which he accepted.
"I was really excited he had worked at Stumptown," Erica said. "Having someone who was already trained helped out."
The shop employs five full-time people and Erica's boyfriend, Tyler Houck, said he helps where he can to fill in the gaps. Houck spends summers guiding photographers and hunters in search of grizzly bears on southeast Alaska's Chichagof Island.
Erica spent 10 years in Portland after growing up on a small farm in Alsea southwest of Corvallis. She missed the rural lifestyle and people, so a couple years after her parents bought land in Wallowa County, she decided to join them.
"I came to visit and decided to come out and help them on the ranch," Erica said.
The family has been making chocolate in Wallowa County for about a year, Wendy said.
After making chocolates in their USDA-approved domestic kitchen and selling them out the back door, Bruce said, and to Ruby Peak in Enterprise and the Sheep Shed in Joseph, they opened their shop this month on Joseph's Main Street.
"We did a test market to see how it would go and it went really well," Wendy said.
Erica added, "It's been a big learning curve. There's a lot to think about, but the community has been very supportive and the people really like it."