Richard Donnelly is on a mission to create the best tasting chocolate in the world.
In a unassuming, toffee-colored shop on the corner of Bay and Mission, the middle-aged chocolatier believes that he’s almost reached perfection when it comes to concocting the world’s finest chocolate.
What’s his secret? Donnelly’s success can all be boiled down to the care he puts into each individual piece of creamy goodness he creates. He believes the quality of his sweets sets him apart from the rest.
“We use great ingredients. From vanilla beans, cream, honey, butter,” he said. “We’re always doing recipe testing to come out with the best-tasting product.”
Donnelly Fine Chocolates is owned by Richard Donnelly and his brother, Henry, who’ve been working together as entrepreneurs since 1988.
The Donnelly brothers always work closely with one another when developing new chocolate products. When it comes to the duo’s working dynamic, Henry believes there’s nobody out there better than his brother.
“[Richard] is a peach,” Henry said. “He’s a great brother and an even better boss.”
After graduating from high school in Massachusetts, Donnelly studied the art of making chocolate under the tutelage master chocolatiers in France and Switzerland.
“At the time, I was really surprised at how difficult it was to find good chocolate,” Donnelly said. “I was then determined to make great tasting recipes.”
While vacationing in San Jose during the 1980s, Donnelly decided to start his business in Santa Cruz after he came across an open commercial kitchen on Mission Street that, at the time, was the site of candy apple creation. He bought the building and made it his own chocolate factory, where his business blossomed into the chocolate lover’s dream that stands there today.
In the 20 years since he purchased the building, Donnelly Fine Chocolates has become a popular tourist destination among chocoholics. Many Santa Cruz residents and chocolatiers around the globe have watched as Donnelly’s handmade chocolates catch the attention of the international culinary community.
Each year, the Donnelly brothers ship chocolate to customers in England, China, Japan and Germany. Food critics from all over the world have raved over their creations. Donnelly’s delicacies have been praised in National Geographic, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Cooks Illustrated and Bon Appetit magazine.
Richard Donnelly’s signature creation is his chocolate-coated caramel candy topped with sea salt. This is the most popular choice among UC Santa Cruz students who visit the store, he said.
Donnelly is now connecting with UCSC students on a whole new level as a full-time Slug studying Economics. Now a third-year student, Donnelly hopes to eventually earn his P.h.D after receiving an undergraduate degree. He hopes to someday become a college professor, though he says he will probably always stay attached to the food world.
For those who can’t get enough sweets at Donnelly Fine Chocolates, the brothers pass on their expertise through classes offered at the shop. They teach intrepid students how to make truffle fillings and the technique of tempering chocolate by hand. And the sweetest part of the deal? Students take home two to three pounds of world-famous chocolate after every class.
Students can purchase Donnelly’s chocolates at UCSC’s Bay Tree Bookstore or at the shop, located at 1509 Mission Street. Richard’s desert recipes can also be found online at http://www.donnellychocolates.com.