Ray Bitzel has been hand-making truffles since he was a child, helping his mother who operated a baked goods store. When he got older, he studied chocolate-making in Belgium before opening Bellejais Chocolatier in Kennesaw. His original shop shuttered in a trademark dispute, but Bitzel never lost his passion for the creamy indulgence. In October, he’ll open Bitzel’s Chocolate (453 Northolt Parkway, Suwanee), a 7,000-square-foot factory, educational experience, and retail store serving gourmet chocolates, bon bons, bark, truffles, and more.
“We feel like people need to understand where their food comes from and have an appreciation for all the work that goes into making their chocolate,” Bitzel says. He’s creating a facility with 168 feet of linear glass showcasing chocolate production from bean to bark. Interactive screens feature Ecuadorean and Ugandan families explaining the process of growing and harvesting cacao. As visitors move through the “Journey of Chocolate” along the stamped concrete trail, they’ll learn about fermentation, drying, sorting, packing, then grinding, roasting, tempering, and more. “Most people don’t have a clue what it takes. We are going to enjoy telling them,” Bitzel says.
The space will be decked out in earthy tones and stainless steel with a midnight blue ceiling, a faux cacao tree forest, and fans to simulate wind. There is no cost for a self-guided tour, but don’t expect any samples. Special tastings, pairings, and chocolate-making experiences will be available for a fee—samples included.
Master chocolatier Sabrina Coombs—formerly of Nobu Atlanta, the Four Seasons, and a season eight finalist on Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship—will be an executive pastry chef. She’ll make all sort of goodies, including treats with made with ruby cacao (for a tart raspberry flavor) and gold (caramel) chocolate. Belgian chocolates will be available for sale as well. Bitzel’s Chocolate will have the ability to churn out 300,000 pieces of chocolate a day. It will offer private-label chocolate and custom packaging options for corporations, restaurants, wineries, and private events, too.
“You’re only as good as your team,” Bitzel says. “This is kind of a Willy Wonka for chefs. We have every type of chocolate machine you can think of.” This includes two continuously churning Italian gelato machines for seasonal flavors like eggnog, peppermint, key lime, lemon, strawberries and cream, and peaches and cream. “Chocolate and gelato go very well together,” he says.