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This post is the second in a series we are publishing about artists and makers in Arkansas. (You can read the first one here.) We’re teaming up with Bernie and Yvonne at Maayde.com to bring you a collection of stories about some of the folks they promote on their website, and encourage you to visit them to find out more and purchase some Arkansas-made products.
Nathaniel Izard followed the convoluted path that has borne the journey of many creative people – he considered pursuing an education in a creative field (culinary school), played it safe and took a “real job”, then, when his spirit was feeling conflicted, he packed a bag and spent a few months in Italy trying to figure out what he really wanted to do with himself. Thankfully, while in Europe, he fell in love with chocolate.
Coming home to Arkansas, Nathaniel had a dream of being a business owner, but zero knowledge about how to become a chocolatier. “I began looking at business ideas back in 2013 … I was fascinated by the journey that the cacao fruit takes, all the way from tropical rainforests to the shelves of supermarkets. I decided I wanted to bring chocolate to market that would be the best around and also made in Arkansas.”
Nathaniel started simply by making batches of chocolate in his parents’ kitchen until he finally hit on a mix that was palatable. He joins a handful of chocolatiers in Arkansas who seemed to share the same mission to provide hand-crafted chocolate to the masses – and I, for one, am grateful for their passion.
One of the biggest differences between locally crafted chocolate that Nathaniel makes and those you’ll buy on the candy aisle of the supermarket is the “bean-to-bar” aspect of the process. “Most chocolate companies buy chocolate from big manufacturers,” explains Nathaniel. “Then they melt it down, add flavors, and package it with their own branding.”
Izard Chocolate’s manufacturing process includes purchasing cacao beans from the farms where they are grown, grinding them into powder at their location in Little Rock, and creating the liquid chocolate that is then poured into molds to become the final product. “I only buy quality cacao from quality farmers,” explains Nathaniel, “and quality determines the way I manufacture it. Sorting beans, roasting, winnowing, grinding, all these steps are done with quality and flavor being the goal.”
This summer will see expanded processing ability for Izard Chocolate with a new roaster. New flavors are in the works, and chocolate events are being planned. Get your sweet tooth ready.
Northwest Arkansas is quickly gaining a glowing reputation in the coffee circles of this country (did you know there are “coffee circles??”), and one of the cornerstones of the local community of brewers is the Arsaga family. Cary and Cindy Arsaga opened their first shop in 1992, and what began as a way to raise a family doing something they love and without paying a fortune for day care has since turned into something of a family dynasty. Having been raised in the shops owned by their parents, the Arsaga’s three daughters cut their teeth on customer service and local business management.
Coffee is what locals think of when they hear the name Arsaga, but Cary and Cindy’s youngest daughter, Ava, says there is more to their family business than the stuff in the cup. “Our business has always been as much about space and community as they are about coffee. In the last 10 years, we’ve made the transition to become a coffee roasting company. This is really an entirely different business than the preparation and service side of things, and it has an entirely different set of ethics and skill.”
Accordingly, now is not the time to get comfortable as a coffee shop owner. “The challenge to grow and offer better and better coffees has been inspiring.” says Ava. “It’s an exciting and dynamic time to work in coffee. We take our jobs as coffee sourcers and roasters super seriously, [but] what makes it worthwhile is the relationships we grow within it.”
Just as with many other kinds of communities of makers, the people working in the coffee industry are an inspiring part of the reason Ava loves being involved. “For whatever reason, jobs in the coffee industry attract some of the most amazing people. I love that the job allows them to still have time (and energy) to be passionate about other aspects of their lives: their families, their art, their place in the world. It’s an honor that all these great people offer up a little piece of what makes them special when they come to work for us, and I think it makes the spaces we create and the coffee we offer special.”
This summer, locals and visitors to Northwest Arkansas should look for a tiny little café off the historic downtown square in Fayetteville where they will be trying new things and experimenting with trends in coffee. “We’re also going to be selling toast.” says Ava. “It’s hard not to roll your eyes at toast. But it’s really, really…. REALLY good. We’re getting some amazing breads from Cody Johnson at Apple Blossom Brewery’s baking wing, and we’re topping them with all kinds of tasty things.”
They will also be offering some coffee classes, basic roasting classes and other educational events at a venue being planned in South Fayetteville on Martin Luther King Boulevard. Stay tuned!
One of Scott McClard’s greatest sources of pride about his family’s barbecue restaurant in Hot Springs is the fact that folks who have eaten countless meals there for generations are being served plates of food that taste exactly the same as the plates his great-grandfather served them in the 1930s. My dad, a native of Hot Springs, is one of those “old-timers,” and I am happy to carry on a family tradition of being a fan of McClard’s.
The origin story of McClard’s could have been taken straight out of an anthology of Arkansas tall-tales, but Scott insists it’s authentic. As it’s told, a traveler gave the recipe for a barbecue sauce to Scott’s great-grandparents, Alex and Gladys, to cover a weeklong stay in their motel.
The original recipe sauce is free of MSG and liquid smoke added to many commercial sauces. Originally served over goat, the sauce became so well-known that Alex and Gladys eventually moved down the street a few blocks and opened McClard’s Bar-B-Q. The rest is Arkansas culinary history.
Scott is the fourth generation of pit masters working in the back of the restaurant, and has been doing the job for so long that he doesn’t even think about it anymore. It’s just a series of motions – lifting smoker doors, flipping meat, stoking fire – that, when put together and done by someone who knows what they’re doing, ends up creating a plate of food that locals and tourists line up to eat every single day. Don’t forget to lick your fingers.
All images courtesy of Bernie Baskin and Yvonne Quek of Maayde.com
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