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NORTH COUNTRY AT WORK: Chocolate lover turns passion into North Creek business
May 11, 2018

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NORTH CREEK - Debbie Morris decided 10 years ago to turn her passion for chocolate into a business. Now she has two chocolatiers on staff at Barkeater Chocolates and is supplying shops across the Northeast with her products.

"Love chocolate," Morris said. "Jim, my husband who owns the company as well, was very supportive and he grew to love chocolate as much as I do. In '08, there wasn't the proliferation of artisan chocolate companies out there like there are today."

When she went to a supermarket, Debbie Morris didn't see a large variety of chocolate choices that she sees today, and she wasn't pleased with the quality that was available.

"So it started with a desire to just get a product we wanted to eat," she said.

In 2008, the Morrises converted an old home into a retail shop and chocolate factory. Jim is the business guy, and Debbie makes the chocolate. She began with truffles - with alcohol-sounding names.

"We did mudslide truffles, Kahlua truffles, Grand Marnier truffles, and that sort of ballooned from there," Debbie Morris said.

She began to experiment with more flavors, including cinnamon, nutmeg and tiramisu. Then she expanded her lines of chocolates to include peanut butter cups, bark, chocolate bars and cocoa.

All these products can be found in the retail shop on state Route 28 in North Creek. The factory is in the back of the building. It's not large, about the size of a two-door garage. And it's noisy - with an air compressor and several chocolate tempering machines twirling all the time.

When it comes machines at Barkeater Chocolates, each one has a name. The depositing machine, for example, is called Otto.

"These are our tabletop tempering machines," Debbie Morris said. "This is Twin. His partner died a few years ago, so he's now solo, but we still call him Twin. We have Big Boy and Big Girl, because they are obviously larger. They're the older siblings. We do a lot of bark out of these machines because it's easy to pour out of."

The packaging machine is a flow wrapper, called Flo Wrappa, which wraps the candy bars and peanut butter cups. Then they're boxed, with an expiration date and a lot number.

In the factory today is one of the chocolatiers, Emily Catillaz-Smith. She's making a batch of 200 citrus bars.

"I have one more 10-pound brick of dark that I have to melt before I can put into Otto," Catillaz-Smith. "So that's going right now. And then I will fill it up, and he will begin to cycle through the tempering process. So then I can make another round of citrus bars."

Tempering means getting the chocolate to the right temperature. Bricks of chocolate are broken, placed in the machine, melted at a high temperature, then cooled, slowly. Once at 88 degrees, the chocolate can be dispensed into bar molds. After they are filled, the molds are shaken by a vibrating table in order to get all the bubbles out of the chocolate. The vibrating table had not been named.

"I guess it's not a big enough machine for us," Debbie Morris said.

They even name the microwaves - Mike, Mike K and Mike C - and their iPad, Chad.

"If they give us trouble, we tend to name them," Debbie Morris said. "If they're having a bad day, we'll name them so they feel like we relate to them a little bit. ... And the vibrating table has never, ever failed us. I feel bad. We should probably name the vibrating table. Maybe Shaky."

Once Shaky gets the bubbles out of the chocolate bar molds, they are placed in a cooling room. It's a closet with an air conditioner.

What Debbie Morris likes the most about operating her own chocolate factory is meeting people who love her products.

"It's the feedback, but also the community support is huge," she said. "Just feeling like you're a part of a greater cause is one of the best things about owning any business here."

One of the challenges of running a chocolate factory in the middle of the Adirondacks? It's in the middle of the Adirondacks. Debbie Morris says replacing parts can take extra time.

"We use our machines a lot, so our parts wear out, and they're not always run to the hardware store and get a simple nut or bolt or anything. It's usually some very specialized machine part that is made just for that machine. So getting that to us, ordering them, waiting for them to come in and figuring out what the problem is to begin with."

Yet, even when machines break down, there's always chocolate at the end of a hard day. What's Debbie Morris's favorite?

"We here do mostly dark chocolate, but my little dirty secret is I will usually reach for a piece of one of our milk chocolate. ... But I love all the fruit flavors."

Barkeater Chocolates will hold a 10th anniversary celebration on June 9 at the factory on state Route 28 in North Creek.

After 10 years, Barkeater Chocolates is still growing, making new recipes, finding new customers. What will the next 10 years bring? "World domination," according to Morris.

"We want to keep growing. We want to be in more stores, but we also want to reach more people. We want to employ more people. We want to double the size of this facility. We want to be a very good employer for the area."

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(This story comes to you from North Country Public Radio's North Country at Work project, which explores the working lives and history of our region. To see all the stories and the photo archive, check out www.northcountryatwork.org.

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