“I’m tasting prominent oaky notes. I’m also picking up on dark fruit and molasses.” Some might assume this reaction could only be uttered over a wine glass. But it can also be spoken while sampling bean-to-bar chocolate. Like wine grapes, cacao beans vary widely based on origin, landscape, and soil; and like wineries, bean-to-bar businesses occasionally fall into a highfalutin attitude if they’re not careful. No one would make that accusation of Celeste Walker’s chocolatier, Snake and Butterfly. “If you’re talking to somebody about the tasting notes of something, it’s okay to describe it in words that you understand,” she says. “You don’t have to have this vernacular of terms to be able to talk about wine or chocolate. Fancy, but not pretentious, I guess.” She laughs, “We don’t take ourselves very seriously.”
Because brands like Nestlé and See’s Candies cover up the natural flavors of cacao beans with vanilla and sugar, people are often startled by the unexpected flavor of bean-to-bar products. Comprehending this, Snake and Butterfly transitions customers with a bean from the Dominican Republic. “It’s got a nice, classic, chocolatey-chocolate flavor,” Celeste explains. “It’s not ‘neutral,’ but it’s the flavor most people think of when they think of dark chocolate.”
Conscientious of their impact on the community, Snake and Butterfly only supports fair-trade suppliers. There’s a reason grocery store chocolate is cheap. Slavery and child labor are a rampant problem in Africa, supplier of 70 percent of the world’s cocoa. Biodegradable or reusable products are another priority. They’ve replaced plastic with paper packaging and paper straws as well as switched to metal tasting spoons, saving tens of thousands of plastic ones from the landfill. Furthermore, Celeste impacts her community as leader of Orchard City Indivisible (OCI), a local activist group involved in weekly rallies, vigils, and marches. Her three partners at the chocolatier are active voices in the organization, and OCI affiliates are some of the shop’s most loyal customers. “In a general day, I would say we have at least half a dozen of our members come in,” Celeste says.
OCI members understand that at Snake and Butterfly, they can speak freely. It’s become a space charmingly unconventional in its unfiltered honesty. They don’t put up a polished PR business mask. Celeste praises her partners for their incredible support, but she also won’t hesitate to let you know they get in heated disagreements. “We have a rule that if we start screaming at each other, which we do occasionally, someone goes next door and gets a six-pack of Olympia or PBR,” Celeste says. “We have to shotgun a beer, take a deep breath, and come back to our business meeting.”
Celeste works alongside her close friend Mara Privitt as well as her divorced parents, Debbie Regis and Vincent Flores. “They’re obviously friends,” Celeste notes. But this staff dynamic understandably leads to tension every now and then. Luckily, it’s also offset by a tight-knit sense of community. Over the shop’s lifespan, the team has supported Vincent as he overcame cancer and Celeste as she faced a double mastectomy. They’ve supported Mara after her mom passed away and Debbie as she started working again for the first time after PTSD symptoms abated. “If one of us needs to be away for two weeks or six months, we just figure it out,” Celeste says.
They also intentionally sit down to shared meals. It’s not uncommon to walk in on the entire staff partaking in a taco break. “People will come in and be like, ‘Are you open? Are we interrupting something?’ ” Celeste chuckles. “We just do ro-sham-bo and it’s somebody’s turn to get up and help.”
This adherence to balance is echoed in the shop’s name. To the Aztecs (discoverers of cacao), snakes and butterflies symbolized male/female archetypes and balance in the universe. “Chocolate has a really bloody history. It wasn’t Cadbury right from the start,” Celeste notes. “They used to use the cacao pods in exchange of a human heart when they stopped sacrificing people,” Mara contributes from across the room. “It’s roughly the same size and shape—and what comes out of it looks like blood.”
There’s no denying this shop possesses its own distinct flavor. “If you want something more mainstream, you can go to another shop,” Celeste shrugs. “If you’d prefer something that’s occasionally loud and boisterous and very energetic and sometimes inappropriate, then that’s why we’re here.”
Snake & Butterfly Chocolate Factory
191 E Campbell Avenue
Campbell, CA 95008
p>Written by Johanna Hickle
Photography by Lam Nguyen
This article originally appeared in Issue 10.5 “Dine”