Made in Michiana: The Chocolate Garden
Our Made in Michiana series is back this month! Our first stop takes us to Coloma. That's where one woman has been whipping up tasty truffles for nearly two decades.
The Chocolate Garden founder and owner Tina Buck has always had a passion for sweet treats.
“I was always the person when a group went out to a restaurant, and they said ‘would you like to see the dessert menu? Would you like to see the dessert tray?’ And everybody else was very demurely saying ‘no, thank you.’ I was like ‘yes! I would!’” Buck said.
That passion is what convinced Tina to quit her job at one of the world's largest advertising agencies almost 20 years ago.
“I knew I was really born an entrepreneur,” Buck said.
So she launched a small, online operation called The Chocolate Garden, specializing in truffles.
“It just seemed like the logical thing because I had been making truffles as gifts for clients and colleagues for the entire 15 years I was in advertising,” Buck said.
Tina's truffle recipes are individual, different and most importantly, simple.
“It doesn’t have egg yolk and corn syrup, good ones anyway. It doesn’t have confectioner sugar and a whole bunch of extraneous ingredients,” Buck said.
Tina altered those recipes, and used a top-secret, one-of-a-kind technique to achieve what she says is the perfect texture.
“We have just finely chopped chocolate on the outside of our truffles, and so when you bite into it, you get that really creamy, really sumptuous texture right from the very beginning,” Buck said.
Things quickly took off for The Chocolate Garden about five years in, when the small shop was featured on the Food Network.
“We didn’t have a shop, we didn’t publicize our address, we didn’t have a sign out front, we weren’t zoned for retail sales, we didn’t have parking. We were not a retail store. And yet people got in their cars, and drove from states away to come to this place they saw on the food network,” Buck said.
Depending on the season, Tina employs about a dozen people or more at the shop's Coloma location today.
Although the business is much larger than when she launched about two decades ago, Tina says she's in no hurry to get too "big."
“I almost feel like getting too big, takes away the specialness,” Buck said.
And more than anything, she says she wants nothing to get in the way of her product's quality.
“We can’t do every possible combination under the sun. If we did, our freshness would slip, our quality would slip, our focus would be on providing variety, not providing something special and different,” Buck said.
Customers have 26 flavors to choose from. Some are more mainstream, like milk and dark chocolate. Others, provide a walk on the wild side, with unique flavors like wine-infused truffles, or even salt and pepper caramel.
“I like to find our own take on it. And again it was one day I thought, what about black pepper?” Buck said.
The black pepper quickly became a hit. And Tina says the chase of her next unexpected and rare creation keeps her excited each and every day.
“It’s a process that starts with an idea, and then I go into the recipe testing phase. And sometimes I get it on the third try, and sometimes it takes – and I’m not exaggerating – 23 tries to get it just right,” Buck said.
Tina's persistence pays off for a delectable delicacy, and out-of-this-world experience, made right here in Michiana.
If you're interested, you can stop by and "try before you buy" at the tasting bar. It's set up similar to a wine tasting, but with truffles.
And if you don't want to eat your sweets, The Chocolate Garden also features coffee and chocolate infused beverages.
If you know of a business you would like us to feature as our next Made in Michiana, shoot us an email at News57@abc57.com.