Nicholas R Peña
Inside Kakawa Chocolate House
Updated: Aug 10, 2019
Hold your breath, make a wish, count to three, come with me and you'll be in a world of pure imagination when taking your first steps into the Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe New Mexico. Your eyes may see a Santa Fe style house nestled off the beaten path but your nose will tell you that you've arrived at one of the cities favorite hidden gems. Nostalgia runs wild as you enter the turquoise portal, and though you won't find a chocolate river and everything is NOT edible, you may find yourself dreaming that it was.
I was fortunate enough to befriend Kakawa Chocolate House owners, Bonnie and Tony Bennett in 2014 when I launched the Taste of Santa Fe lunch tour. I truly believe that Kakawa has played a significant part in making it our most popular tour with over 1500 guests visiting per year. Santa Fe is truly special when it comes to our foodie scene but nothing comes close to the Kakawa experience. To get a better insight behind the scenes of this culinary destination I had the honor of doing a Q & A session and this is what we explored:
FTNM: What inspired you both to take over Kakawa and when did you do so?
Kakawa: While we were not the original owners, we were inspired by the initial concept, a history of chocolate and the researched recipes that defined chocolate drinks over the last 2000 years. The business was founded about 11 years ago, and we have owned and worked the continued evolution of Kakawa for the last 6 ½ years while staying true to that original historic inspiration. Plus, who doesn’t like chocolate?
FTNM: Your location is just as unique as your chocolate, can you tell us a little bit about the history of the building and your experience converting it into a chocolate oasis?
Kakawa: Our building on Paseo de Peralta, was originally built as a residence in 1948. So while it isn’t “ancient” it is a wonderful, historical building. It was converted to a real-estate office for a time and then into Kakawa Chocolate House 10 years ago. We continue to maintain all the wonderful, historic features like the vigas, kiva fireplace and original wood floors. Sometimes a building like this can be “challenging” but we love the charm and intimate feeling it adds to the Kakawa experience.
FTNM: Kakawa Chocolate house is a "must-do" in Santa Fe, what has contributed to your success in making Kakawa a Santa Fe foodie destination?
Kakawa: We see Kakawa’s success as a reflection of our unique approach to the history of chocolate, some of the most amazing handmade chocolate you will ever taste, and our commitment to the highest level of customer service to create a truly special and fun chocolate experience for all our guests. We are also active members of our community, supporting and collaborating with other amazing business like ours to help create a go-to destination for our locals as well. And, since Tony’s never met a stranger, he has a great story and conversation for everyone- no matter where you’re from!
FTNM: You focus on elixirs and chocolates inspired by Pre-Columbian America is an important focal point of your shop, where did this inspiration come from?
Kakawa: One of the original owners is an anthropologist and studied extensively the practices, ingredients and history from the Ancient Maya, and Aztec cultures regarding chocolate. Even our name, “Ka-ka-wa” is the Olmec glyph believed to be the very first “word” for cacao, or chocolate. We also take that historical tour through old Europe and even Colonial America.
FTNM: What is your favorite part of the chocolate making process and why?
Kakawa: Definitely the creation of new recipes! The discovery process is collaborative, combining research, seasonal local ingredients and new ideas with our chocolatiers to create delicious and exciting tastes and flavor compliments. It’s a fun process plus… who wouldn’t want to be a “taste tester” at Kakawa?
FTNM: Guests rave about everything you put out, but what we really want to know is; what is your favorite thing that you offer and why?
Kakawa: Aye! Absolutely impossible to name just one. Okay, we’ll narrow it down… First, the elixirs- the combination of deliciously rich, pick-me-up and all with real health benefits? Pretty close to a perfect food. My (Bonnie) favorite is the Mayan Full Spice- it is so complex & spicy with layer after layer of flavors, textures, and aromas- SO good. Tony is a self-proclaimed chili-sissy so the “Tony-special” was named after him, half Chili and half American, that’s his favorite. Tony’s new favorite chocolate is our brand new recipe- the Italian Caramel. Admittedly, it’s mine too. It is a culinary perfect pairing of our house agave caramel, 100% dark chocolate, fig, pistachio and a hint of fennel. (Angels singing). Lastly, I have to mention our ice cream. They are all home-made with many local, seasonal ingredients but the chocolate is like the deepest, darkest, most delicious chocolate ice cream you’ve ever had. And, we get lots of guests who tell us the same- “.The best I’ve EVER had…anywhere!”
FTNM: What do you want your patrons to be thinking as they leave Kakawa Chocolate House?
Kakawa: That it was a fun, unique, outrageously delicious experience and…more importantly, when can I come back? Tomorrow?
FTNM: Do you have any plans to expand in New Mexico? To Albuquerque? If so, when and where?
Kakawa: No current plans for expansion in New Mexico though we are always on the lookout for great locations! We will be opening a new location in 2018 in Salem, Massachusetts, just outside Boston, in conjunction with the acclaimed Peabody Essex Museum. A new slice of history!
For more information about Kakawa please visit them at https://www.kakawachocolates.com/