All chocolate is not created equal, though it can take a refined palate to discover its nuances. When Cam Loyet was a kid, his favorite delicacy was a Hershey’s Special Dark bar. He’d pick one up anytime he went to a gas station, never dreaming he would someday dedicate his life to finding those nuances and become a fine chocolatier.
As co-founder and CEO of Honeymoon Chocolates, which recently opened its new factory, retail shop and café on Central Avenue in the heart of Clayton, Loyet now spends his days perfecting the art of making bean-to-bar craft chocolate sweetened solely with locally sourced raw honey.
By working with a local apiarist and donating a portion of the company’s proceeds to the Pollinator Partnership, Honeymoon Chocolates helps address the decline of honeybees while helping consumers eliminate refined sugar from their favorite treats – two main goals of the business.
“Our honey comes from apiarist Jeff Weaver out of Bourbon, Missouri. It’s all wildflower and clover honey,” Loyet says. “Jeff has been incredible. He donates all of his profits back to those in St. Louis that want to learn how to bee keep. He’s teaching the area about beekeeping, and it’s at the core of what we do.”
The other cornerstone of Honeymoon Chocolates is sourcing the best cacao and paying a fair price for it so their partner farmers don’t switch to more profitable crops, causing supply chain issues. Honeymoon sources cacao from Haiti, Peru, Colombia and Belize.
“Our farmers really know how to produce and harvest and then also ferment fine cacao,” says Loyet. “We didn’t understand there was a dark side to the cacao industry in the beginning, but we figured out pretty quickly that we could make a difference by sourcing products at a fair wage.”
These lessons were part of the journey to where Honeymoon is now from where it started in a dorm room at Illinois Wesleyan University in 2016. Loyet and his now wife Haley started making chocolate as a hobby to fill their time during a free summer. “We just wanted to create something,” he says.
They came up with the name Honeymoon on a whim in the study room at the school library – the perfect fit for chocolate sweetened with honey – and began sharing samples with friends. They quickly learned they could potentially be the only honey-sweetened chocolate on the market.
Loyet had signed up for a pitch competition, so they made their first batch, even creating their own packaging, and presented their business idea to a panel of judges. The couple ended up winning the fellowship for a year of mentoring plus $5,000 in funding, and the seeds of a business were officially planted.
It would take time and struggle, however, before their dream was fully realized. While the funding was enough to buy them ingredients, it didn’t get them much else. They tried a Kickstarter campaign, but fell short of their goal. With no funding available to a couple of undergraduate students, they ran out of money and put the business aside to further pursue their education.
Haley, now a pediatric resident at Cardinal Glennon, moved to St. Louis to pursue her MD at Saint Louis University. Shortly after, Loyet joined her, enrolling at Washington University to get his MBA while working full-time for the university as an accountant.
“That was when I realized that Honeymoon could still work.” He says. “If I put in two hours a day, and five hours on the weekend, we could start getting some traction, some revenue and, down the road, I wouldn’t have to necessarily do accounting.”
They began selling Honeymoon Chocolates at local farmers markets in the winter of 2019 just to start making some money, and it proved to be a perfect training ground to help grow the brand and workshop their ideas.
“What we found was a community that is willing to support you, regardless of what you made,” says Loyet. “All of the makers at all the markets would come up and let us know, this one’s good or this one’s bad.”
Through a lot of trial and error, they were able to hone their recipes and develop their top-selling products.
“We make dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate. The dark chocolate ranges from 70 percent up to 77 percent. We’ve even gone as dark as 85 percent in the past,” Loyet explains. “Our milk chocolate is strawberry milk, and it’s used with our Belize cacao, and our white chocolate is a blueberry lavender bar. It’s been a bestseller for the last two years as a seasonal variety, and we’re excited to bring that back as a full-time bar. My favorite bar here is the dark raspberry bar.”
The steps that go into making a fine chocolate bar start at origin. It takes three to five years for the cacao farmer to have a profitable crop, growing enough pods to turn a profit from a single tree. Once the pods are harvested, they are cut in half. The wet cacao is fermented, then dried and sorted, and finally packed into large burlap bags and shipped to its destination.
“It’s our job from there to turn the effort and the fine flavors that these farmers have produced into a chocolate bar,” says Loyet. “Once the cacao arrives here in St. Louis, we roast the beans and the process begins by not only dehydrating the beans, taking out about 10 percent of the water weight, but also sanitizing the beans and bringing out some rich flavors that aren’t already developed.”
Next, they winnow the beans, separating the nibs from the husks, and grind the nibs for 48 hours. After that period, they temper, pour and package the chocolate bars by hand. Each bar is individually weighed to make sure it is within spec, then polished, trimmed and heat sealed in Honeymoon’s compostable packaging.
Perfecting this process has meant growing the Honeymoon team, including the addition of Flynn Edgerton, head chocolate maker and co-founder. Born and raised in St. Louis, Edgerton learned the art of chocolate-making at Dandelion Chocolate in San Francisco. After returning to his hometown, he was searching for a local bean to bar maker when a former coworker asked if he’d ever heard of Honeymoon Chocolates.
Edgerton emailed Loyet in April 2020 to see if he had a need for a chocolate maker. Though it wasn’t in the company’s budget at the time, they kept in touch and by October, Honeymoon had the capital to bring him on full-time.
“I have a creative drive just to build things and make things, but chocolate specifically was a world that I had no idea about until I started with Dandelion Chocolate in San Francisco,” Edgerton says. “I’ve always been into craft coffee and craft beer and things of that nature where there’s more time and intention and art behind something that you consume and you can taste it. And it took me a little while to understand that, but I figured out that craft chocolate is the same way. There’s so much nuance and there’s so much room for creativity.”
In 2021, Honeymoon Chocolates accomplished another milestone goal – becoming an Arch Grants recipient, which provided them with non-dilutive funding and invaluable networking opportunities.
“I remember applying to the Arch Grants process back in 2016, so five years of applying, and finally we made it,” Loyet says. “This cohort has nine CPG brands – so individuals who are part of this consumer packaged goods industry that share their contacts and their willingness to grow the brand.”
The brand has come a long way since that dorm room in Bloomington, Illinois. Honeymoon Chocolates is now sold in over 120 locations throughout the world in five different countries, as well as, of course, a variety of locations in St. Louis.
“We’ve received local support from wholesalers or retailers here in St. Louis since the beginning. Our first account was The Golden Grocer when they were in the Central West End. Since then, we’ve expanded to other locations such as The Annex, Schnucks, Winslow’s Table, Parker’s Table,” says Loyet. “Without the support of those in St. Louis, we won’t survive.”
Now, fans of the brand can shop, taste and sip in Honeymoon Chocolates’ new location.
The café will serve drinking chocolate and coffee, as well as samples of all of Honeymoon’s dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate while patrons watch it being made in the fully transparent kitchen/factory.
“This space really brought everything together. We decided on the design mostly based on our transparency. The front part of our building is just windows. The maker space itself has windows so you can see directly into their process. That carries over into our transparency and our pricing and where we source our ingredients. That’s always been a focal point, making sure that we’re transparent in our entire process,” says Loyet.
“What we do here is inspiring to me. And I believe wholeheartedly that what we do can help educate people about chocolate and also teach people that there’s more to chocolate than going to the store and buying Hershey’s.”
Editor’s Note: Honeymoon Chocolates closed its brick-and-mortar location in Clayton on October 29, 2023. The business continues to produce its product line for retail and wholesale customers.
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Visit Honeymoon Chocolates’ website to learn more or shop for their chocolate.