Tulsa chocolatier's sweet gig
Once inside, the scent of eau de chocolat and a mouthful of tart lemon filling from a limoncello bonbon put all my senses on alert. A peanut butter and jelly truffle closed the deal, and I was vanilla no more.
The limoncello bonbon and PB&J truffle were just two in
Glacier's repertoire of artisan chocolates being passed around by Davis Light, the store's de facto ambassador and a walking Wikipedia on all things chocolate. Light's enthusiasm about chocolate in general and his devotion to
Glacier in particular are contagious.
"The reason I come to work every day is because I want to
make sure that people understand exactly what they are getting and its quality," said Light, 26, who has a degree in anthropology. "I want to give people an experience
that they will remember for the rest of their lives." And, he added, "You get to eat this stuff!"
While Light talked chocolate, two of Glacier's four employees were setting up shelf displays of whimsical candy boxes designed and produced by Cynthia Calvert-Copeland, 55, wife of Glacier Confection founder Bill Copeland,
In the kitchen, another employee was pouring melted chocolate into forms, while Copeland filled chocolate shells with warm caramel one by one. He paused briefly to invite the out-of-towners in the store to chat and watch
the candymaking process in the Glacier kitchen.
As he spoke, I continued to "test" the validity of my chocolate conversion every time a tray was passed around. I continued with a bourbon-pecan truffle, followed by samples with flavors like Frangelico and boysenberry. Each
Glacier chocolate is made by hand from white, milk, dark or
varietal chocolate. Copeland makes his most exclusive chocolates with Fortunato Nacional No. 4, which is made from rare white beans that grow on cacao trees in the Maranon Valley, high in the mountains of Peru.
Copeland said that before he opened Glacier in August 2010, he had several successful careers. After serving in the U.S. Army (he was activated on April 30, 1975, the day Saigon fell in the Vietnam War), he worked for Eastman Kodak until 1994. Then he started a digital imaging business that provided visuals to Hollywood and shows like "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune." From there he went into package design and production, and in 1998 he married Cynthia Calvert, who happened to own the packaging business where he worked.
"Working together made for a good marriage and business sense," Copeland said."We still work together to this day." But Copeland, who calls himself "Glacier's CCO" (chief chocolate officer), continued to be drawn to the role of chocolatier. "I warned my wife that I wanted to make chocolates," he said.
Working with chocolate really wasn't too much of a stretch for Copeland: His wife and Light agree that no one at Glacier eats more chocolate than Bill.
"He eats it at night when he gets home," Calvert-Copeland
said. "When we travel, he packs chocolate bars."
Copeland said his chocolate IQ developed slowly over a 10-year period. He learned from experts, traveling the world to observe the chocolate business in a variety of cultures. Copeland graduated from Ecole Chocolat in Vancouver, British Columbia, and he is taking classes in Paris to earn the title of master chocolatier.
Most recently, he traveled to Peru in his quest to see the
"Mother Tree" of Fortunato No. 4, which had been declared extinct in the early 1900s but was found alive and well in 2009 at an altitude of more than 4,000 feet on Don Fortunato's land in a remote region of Peru.
Copeland is one of a handful of chocolatiers who make artisan candy using the rare and deeply flavored chocolate. Fortunato's precious white beans grow on indigenous trees in locations that are kept secret to protect them from large companies bent on increasing production by buying up land, cutting down the heirloom cacao trees and replanting
more productive varieties that have less flavor. Copeland is one of several chocolatiers working to preserve the trees.
Besides insisting on only the best and purest of ingredients to produce his product, Copeland also vowed to make a difference when he opened Glacier Confection, named for one of his favorite places, Glacier National Park. He
declared that the business's mission would be "to raise support and funds for fallen heroes and their families." It further states that Glacier is "committed to making a difference in the lives of families who have sacrificed much for their love of country."
To that end, Copeland is a founding member of the Patriot Golf Course, which hosts an annual golf invitational and gala to raise money for veterans of the U.S. military. Glacier supplies the event with chocolate. He also donates funds to the Folds of Honor Foundation, which provides college scholarships and support to spouses and children of service members killed or disabled while on active duty. He also is involved in the VA Coming Home program in Oklahoma. He plans to do even more for America's fallen heroes.
"Our participation to this point has just been financial," he said. "We haven't had a facility that would accommodate (helping veterans find jobs and acquire job skills)."
That is about to change. Copeland has built a 47,000-squarefoot facility that not only will warehouse his product but also provide space to expand production. It opens Labor Day weekend. He said he plans to keep the Brady Street retail store open but redo its kitchen to host chocolatemaking classes and tastings. Part of his master plan also is to fund a site and educational programs that will help veterans transition to civilian life and acquire the skills they need to find jobs in the chocolate industry.
"I didn't get into chocolate to be a big company," Copeland said. "I got into it to have fun and give back."
He seems to be doing just that, and his chocolates, which are miniatureworks of art, continue to taste as good as they look. "It's about making the perfect piece of chocolate," he said.
After sampling Copeland creations, this former chocolate skeptic can say Glacier's chocolate truly lives up to its Aztec name: "Food for the Gods."
Glacier Confection, 15 E. Brady St.,