Local chocolatier to open retail space, tasting room

Fast-growing Indianapolis-based chocolate maker SoChatti, which opened a production and research facility last spring at the Circle City Industrial Complex at 1125 Brookside Ave., has now added a retail counter and tasting room at the same location.

The retail and event space doesn’t officially open until Monday, but it’s already seen some traffic from curious passers-by, said founder, President and CEO Matt Rubin. “We had over $2,500 in sales here before we even opened.”

Initially, the space will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays, with weekend hours to be added next year.

Rubin established Trade Secret Chocolates Inc., which does business as SoChatti, in 2013. The company makes liquid chocolate that’s packaged in pouches and can be drizzled on top of other foods or used in recipes. The company also makes warmers—countertop kitchen appliances that store the pouches at a ready-to-pour temperature.

The tasting room, which Rubin calls an experience studio, occupies about 1,600 square feet of the larger 12,870-square-foot facility. It contains a demonstration space at the front of the room, along with moveable tables, an area with upholstered furniture and a retail counter.

Rubin envisions using the experience studio as a place for events like chocolate tastings, classes and collaborations with other local companies—partnering with a winemaker for a wine-and-chocolate tasting, for instance. It will also be open for customers who want to pop in and buy SoChatti products.

“This is designed to be flexible,” Rubin said of the space.

In the larger picture, Rubin also plans to use the studio as a product-testing space where the company can get customer feedback on new products—and not just chocolate.

Though SoChatti started with chocolate, the company has an on-site 592-square-foot research and development lab where it’s working on new product lines that it expects to hit the market next year.

It’s developed processes for both flavor preservation and flavor balancing that can be applied to a variety of foods and beverages, and it has 28 patents either pending or already issued to protect its processes, equipment, industrial designs and production methods.

SoChatti’s flavor preservation technology can be used, for instance, to produce dried fruits and herbs that have the same taste as fresh. Its flavor balancing technology can eliminate the bitter aftertaste of things like dark chocolate, coffee and alcoholic beverages.

The idea, Rubin said, is that food and beverage manufacturers will engage SoChatti to develop a production process and specialized equipment that SoChatti can then license back to those makers.

SoChatti has secured a number of commercial development agreements with various food and beverage makers, Rubin said, though none of those products has made it to store shelves quite yet.

“It’s a food technology company disguised as a chocolate company,” Rubin said of SoChatti.

Before starting SoChatti, Rubin spent almost nine years at IUPUI as assistant director of technology commercialization at the IU Research and Technology Corp.

SoChatti has raised $2.8 million in investor funding to date through several fundraising rounds.

The company, which began the year with six employees, now has 12 permanent full-time employees and another six who work as needed during busy times. Rubin said he anticipates converting those six positions to full-time before long.

Rubin said SoChatti is on track with the hiring goals it agreed to when it was approved for state economic incentives late last year. The Indiana Economic Development Corp. approved the company for up to $500,000 in performance-based tax credits. In order to earn the full amount, SoChatti must employ at least 71 people by the end of 2023.

The city of Indianapolis also approved a five-year personal property tax abatement for SoChatti in January.

The company’s annual revenue hasn’t yet hit $100,000, but Rubin said he expects to hit the “high six figure” mark in 2021. That figure includes an estimated $560,000 in online and brick-and-mortar retail sales, with the rest coming from licensing fees for SoChatti’s commercial clients.

By January, Rubin said, SoChatti products will be available at 484 grocery stores. Those are regional chains, including Ohio-based Needler’s Fresh Market, which has 25 stores including one each in Indianapolis and New Palestine.

“In a year that hasn’t had a ton of good news, we’re really proud of what we’ve been able to do,” Rubin said.

In other news this week:

— The restaurant J’s Lobster & Fish Market is set to open Jan. 5 at the Bottleworks District, 850 Massachusetts Ave. It will be one of more than 20 tenants to occupy the development’s Garage Food Hall.

J’s Lobster & Fish Market will offer lobster rolls, lobster macaroni and cheese, New England clam chowder and other seafood items. It’s a new local concept by food truck operator and restaurant veteran J Wolf. Wolf’s food truck, J’s Lobster, will continue to operate.

— City Market, 222 E. Market St., has lost another tenant.

The Indian restaurant Spice Box, which had operated at City Market since 2013, announced its closure last week. “It’s with great sadness that we share that Spice Box at City Market has closed its doors. We thank you for a great run!,” the restaurant posted Friday on its Facebook page.

Spice Box began as a food truck. The company also previously operated at 719 Virginia Ave. in Fletcher Place, but that location closed in 2017.

It’s one of several recent or upcoming departures for City Market, which has struggled this year as the pandemic has pushed thousands of downtown workers to shift to working from home.

The crepe shop 3 Days in Paris closed in mid-November after a nine-year run; and Dec. 23 will be the last day at City Market for The Tamale Place, which has operated at City Market since 2014. The Tamale Place’s west-side location, 5226 Rockville Road, will remain open.

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