We love Tofino and we love the incredible quality of food in this small town. This is why we decided to start a blog of the great partners featured on our food tour. While we know you love to eat and find out where your food came from, we knew some of you will want to know more than just what you get to enjoy with your taste buds. Our goal is for you to learn why being in the food business in Tofino is unique, challenging, and incredibly satisfying. Our other goal is to have you support these small businesses and learn about the intelligent, creative souls that make you come back for their product year after year. Up first – Cam & Kim, owners of the hugely popular Chocolate Tofino.
When we first came to Tofino in 2016, Adam and I visited Chocolate Tofino and were told by friends that they had the best gelato in Tofino. Adam had the salted caramel and I had the maple pecan. The flavours easily won our love. When we discussed who we wanted to partner with for the food tour we knew we had to have Chocolate Tofino gelato. It is truly the best gelato we have ever had.
The following interview is where we learn how current owners Kim & Cam Shaw were drawn to Tofino during a self-proclaimed “surf sabbatical” in 2009 and ended up buying Chocolate Tofino in 2010.
Tell us about your Tofino “surf sabbatical” and how you ended up purchasing Chocolate Tofino.
Kim: We were living in Saskatchewan and had visited Tofino a lot for surfing trips. One year, I was let go from my job and we decided to do some soul-searching. Cam and I packed up our van and came out to Tofino for a month.
Cam: It was a “surf sabbatical” and we only brought 10 personal items each. Kim and I had a list of tasks that we had to complete every day. Kim was learning Japanese. I was surfing. She was drawing. I was playing the ukulele. We forced ourselves to do it every day. It was an intentional reset and helped us get rid of everything that gets in the way like cutting the grass and doing the dishes so that you can do the things that you want to do.
Every Sunday was treat day and a friend of ours told us to try Chocolate Tofino. So, I would go there and buy handfuls of milk chocolate bars and Kim would get gelato. When we were leaving Tofino to go back to Saskatchewan our friends said, “you should buy Chocolate Tofino!” At first, we were like, “that is crazy,” but we couldn’t stop thinking about it for months. Then the call was made to buy and it all started from there.
Fast forward to owning Chocolate Tofino. What did you focus on to make it your own?
Cam: To make it our own we are constantly researching for the best ingredients. For example, we tried dozens of maple syrups until we discovered the best small farm maple syrup. It was changes like that made it our own. During our first 5 years, Chocolate Tofino didn’t change in the actual shop because it was great the way it was.
In the food scene, everything suddenly became LOCAL, LOCAL, LOCAL. What are some of your local ingredients?
Cam: The previous owners were already very local focused. We just expanded on a few things. We use Wildflower Honey from Babe’s in Victoria, Happy Valley Lavender and Herbs in Victoria, Tofino sea salt from Tofino Salt Company, and Vancouver Island Salt Company just to name a few.
Kim: Chocolate Tofino also works with the Tofino Ucluelet Culinary Guild, which is where a lot of our local frozen berries are purchased. Not all are grown on Vancouver Island. Some are grown on the mainland but it is still British Columbia grown. The Tofino Ucluelet Culinary Guild is also where we found that great maple syrup.
How do you ensure Chocolate Tofino’s chocolate is ethical?
Cam: Ethics is a funny thing. There are many different parts to it. There is the human rights portion of it along with non-GMO, Organic, and Fair Trade. All of these things cross over into big business and not everything that is certified is what it appears to be. Even though some things are labelled as fair trade, if you research it, you find out the workers are still not benefitting from it. So, when Chocolate Tofino had the opportunity to switch to Direct Trade we took it. We went to Colombia where we met the chocolate producers, spent time on their farm and saw where everything is coming from. It gives us the assurance that we are making the right decision for our product. By choosing Colombian chocolate it guarantees it’s high quality and its certain depth of flavour while being ethically produced.
You travelled to Colombia in September 2017, tell us about that experience?
Cam: We planted cacao trees. We pruned. We learned the whole agricultural side of chocolate.
Kim: And we sat in a lab and tasted chocolates from various regions. There are many steps in the making of chocolate and we were tasting the difference that roasting and fermentation makes on a final product.
Cam: To have it be such a personal, tailored experience for the chocolate we use, it changed everything for us.
Kim: One of our new products inspired by our trip to Colombia was our dark chocolate covered cocoa nibs. It’s vegan and gluten-free and it’s so tasty. They gave us samples and we knew we needed to share it.
The other thing I should mention about the trip was the hope it gave us about what our product is doing for the people in Colombia. The company that represents the producers of our chocolate is working with people to have sustainable cocoa farms. Colombia produces 70 percent of the world’s cocaine. Colombia is ripped apart by guerilla warfare and it’s a tough place for rural families to make a living outside of cocaine. This company we work with, they educate farmers from all over Colombia on how to have successful cocoa farms. They teach farmers special pruning methods and they are taking areas of Colombia that are poverty stricken and turning the economy around with legitimate farm practices. They have a sustainable long-term plan that is helping the country build schools and turn the economy around.
Chocolate Tofino gelato is the BEST! What is your secret?
Cam: I believe that when gelato is done right, it is a three-day process. We home make the base and don’t use any fake powders or additives. We use Island Farms dairy and make the gelato the most work-intensive way. That puts us in a different category because we are flavour conscious and we want to offer our gelato at a great price. I want to be proud of it every day.
We are reluctant business owners. Chocolate Tofino wants to make a fun and tasty product. Kim and I don’t want to take over the world. Chocolate Tofino uses the best ingredients, has a small workspace, and we don’t spend time doing fancy decorations on top of the gelato pans. When you come in for a gelato, you won’t see 100 flavours. Chocolate Tofino has about 15 flavours. You won’t find cotton candy or bubble gum gelato and that means some kids are disappointed. Our flavours are a little bit more refined. I feel like Tofino kids are educated when they come here for gelato.
When we launched our “Hammerhead” flavour on National Ice Cream day in the summer the local kids loved it. Plus, everyone tries it and tries to guess what the flavour is. I’ve said multiple times that Hammerhead isn’t a mystery flavour because mysteries were meant to be solved. Don’t try and solve it. Just like it for what it is. I wanted to make a gelato with a name that you can’t Google.
How did you come up with the name “Hammerhead”?
Kim: Cam and I are very passionate about ocean life and with a lot of our products we are donating to Sea Shepherd. Sharks have been in the spotlight lately because of overfishing & shark finning and Cam wanted to combine a flavour and colour that was shimmery grey. We put little chocolate shark fins on top of the gelato on the day we launched it.