Anette’s Chocolates is celebrating 30 years of business in downtown Napa, having opened in December 1991.
Anette Madsen Yazidi, Brent Madsen and Mary Stornetta serve and create amazing artisan chocolates and truffles for locals from their storefront at 1321 First St.
“We are astounded that it has been 30 years already. We’re extremely thankful that our families and decades of loyal customers have shared in the love of our creations. They’ve stuck with us throughout the ups and downs of downtown Napa’s changes,” said Anette.
And the family-run business has seen it all — from the many empty storefronts of the 1990s to floods, earthquakes, fires, road directional changes and what seemed for years like it would be never-ending construction on First Street. Then, add COVID-19.
“We’ve managed to weather the storms,” said Anette.
Anette, Brent and Mary pride themselves on creating small-batch, exquisite quality chocolates, salted caramels, sauces and gourmet ice creams. Brent is the Master Chocolatier and Mary is the GM for wholesale, which includes wineries across the country, niche shops and specialty products for Williams Sonoma. Anette manages their two retail shops at First Street and inside the Oxbow Public Market.
Along the way, Anette’s Chocolates has won 13 “SOFI’s” awards (Specialty Outstanding Food Innovation,) considered to be the Oscars in the world of specialty foods. Many of those honors are for various varieties of Anette’s brittle as well as their chocolate dessert toppings. Heady stuff for a family-run business.
Brent is wonderfully innovative and a Master Chocolatier, who came into his own when he began making truffles, which people loved. The popularity of those got the business owners’ wheels turning.
“It occurred to us that we could take our delicate truffle ganache centers and make a dessert topping pourable over ice creams, cheesecakes and fresh strawberries. And that is what Brent did. ” said Anette.
After experimenting for months, he perfected what is now known as “Brent’s Cabernet Chocolate Wine Sauce.” It is the perfect blend of chocolate and wine. Locals loved it, asked for more, and Brent delivered.
Five additional flavors followed, each with their own creative twist, from silky amaretto, fruity raspberry, to dark chocolate laced with brandy. Each topping is distinctive and decadent. For a true indulgence, Brent created “spoonable dessert topping.”. Somewhat thicker, they are perfect by the spoonful or enjoyed over a favorite dessert.
And then came the brittle.
“Craft beers have become very popular,” said Anette, “and we started wondering how we could incorporate them into our products. Brent began to experiment with blending beer into brittle. The results were amazing.”
How amazing? Five of their Gold Medal awards have come from Brent’s Brittle, which now features a number of flavors. “Beer brittle may be the most popular,” said Anette, “but chile-lime tequila tortilla, chardonnay, and cashew coconut brittle are right behind it.”
“A few years into the business, we began planning how we could expand beyond our retail shop. We reached out to wineries, gourmet and artisan shops and attended specialty food shows in both New York City and San Francisco,” said Anette. “Our efforts brought great rewards.”
The pandemic has devastated many businesses, and Anette’s was profoundly impacted as well.
“We were partly closed for several months and had to lay off 75% of our employees,” said Anette. “The stress of sickness, family and employee health, negotiating how to get supplies, pay continued mortgage and expenses, create new COVID-friendly sales options, operate on reduced hours with fewer employees and longer shifts, the lack of child care and closed schools has been extremely stressful. We are fortunate that our children returned to Napa to help and available staff stepped up. We’re very thankful to have landlords that reduced rents and assisted when they could.”
Looking ahead to the fourth quarter of 2021, Mary expressed a very “Welcome return of our wholesale customers.” Anette added, “We are happily busier than expected and are surprised at how many local Californians have visited Napa over the past year.”
Anette’s recently remodeled their 1321 First St. store with a beautiful 20’ glassed counter for chocolates and an exquisite back wall depicting flowing chocolate. They are open seven days a week at both shops.
They are firm believers in downtown Napa. “Brent, Mary and I grew up in Napa and raised our families here. We love all Napa has to offer,” she said. “We are fortunate to have our business here.”
Craig Smith is executive director of the Downtown Napa Association.