Girly in the chocolate factory
Yummy Dummy’s secret ingredient is sweet, sweet mirth
Chocolate-bar production is winding down after a hard day’s work for the Yummy Dummy chocolate company when one of the business’s principals calls a board meeting. All the board members race upstairs to a meeting room that looks like the kind of secret-club fort you wished you had when you were 10, and the vexed subject of yellow tickets is raised.
It turns out that a boy has been putting out the rumor that some of Yummy Dummy’s chocolate bars—which come in four flavors, all dark chocolate: plain, with almonds, with marshmallows and with almonds and marshmallows—have yellow tickets hidden inside, just like the golden tickets of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fame. The alleged prize, though, isn’t a tour through a magical chocolate plant (in any case, Yummy Dummy’s production space is a commercial kitchen borrowed one day a month from Davis Bread & Desserts). It’s supposedly a kiss from one of the manufacturers—seven girls, who range in age from 8 to 13: Sarah, Sedona, Stream, Rowan, Rachel, Risa and Bay. (Some are sisters, some are cousins, and some are friends who first met in a play group at age 3.)
“So this boy, his brother told him that for Yummy Dummy, if you find a yellow ticket, you get to kiss a girl,” says Rachel, one of the younger girls, who has the can’t-sit-still energy of an especially lively kitten.
Rowan, an older girl whose unofficial title is CEO—that’s Chocolate Eating Officer—breaks in: “So, what happened was this boy came and said he found a yellow ticket, and we all screamed ‘Eww!’ and ran.”
“It was so mean and evil!” says Rachel.
“Eww!” they shout in chorus.
Needless to say, there are no yellow tickets. But there really are chocolate bars, deep-flavored and dark and, well, yummy—even without a manufacturing process involving Oompa-Loompas. Despite the lack of Willy Wonka, however, Yummy Dummy’s production days have their own charm and magic, thanks in part to the girls’ nicknames for the equipment, much of it homemade by one of their dads. Rowan walks me through it, showing me the temperer, full of slowly spinning, silky melted chocolate; the Dripless Wonder, for pouring chocolate into the bar-mold trays; and Mr. Wiggles, a vibrating machine that spreads out the chocolate within the molds. (An earlier model, Mrs. Wiggles, “kind of started smoking and died.”)
Next, Sara shows me the Nut-O-Matic, a wooden tray with holes and a removable base for putting the right number of almonds in each bar. “And it’s really awesome,” Rachel breaks in. “And she’s hyper,” says Sara. (There’s no dedicated Marshmallow-O-Matic, but Rowan explains that the marshmallows—long, skinny kosher ones from Israel—are flattened in a pasta maker so they’re thinner and fit in the bars.)
Risa shows me the “claw”—bent wire to sink the almonds in the bars, so they’re fully covered. Last is the Penguin Cave, a little tent with slots for the bar molds, hooked up to a portable air conditioner. When the bars are done, their shiny surface visibly releases from the clear plastic molds.
The company emerged from a project of making bars as Christmas presents and grew from there. At first, the girls tried tempering in pots in a home kitchen, but attaining the precise temperatures was “not impossible, but very, very, very difficult,” says Rowan. Tempering is necessary to ensure that finished chocolate doesn’t “bloom,” becoming covered with whitish streaks. Risa also explains that untempered chocolate is less smooth and appealing: “When you break it, it doesn’t really snap.” Putting together the company was the brainwave of a dad, and there are now four families involved.
On production days, the whole crew starts early, and they make an average of about 600 bars. The bars get sold over the Internet at www.yummy-dummy.com, the last Saturday of the month at the Davis Farmers’ Market, at two stores in Point Arena and at some Davis events. They donate 10 percent of profits to kid-related charities.
Indeed, the question of which charity should be next is tackled at the board meeting, after the case of the yellow tickets. After a vote, they decide on a camp for kids that raises money for breast-cancer research, and move on to questions like whether to introduce a new bar flavor (they want coconut) and whether to offer a three for $5 discount at the Davis Farmers’ Market. Debate is fierce.
Rowan advocates it: “At the Farmers’ Market, you know how we sell [bars] for $2? People are always saying they only have a $5 bill, so we sell three for $5.”
Rachel objects: “But that cuts us one dollar cheaper!”
Rowan: “That’s the point!”
Two of the dads try to explain the psychology of the discount, but no decision is reached—and at the end one girl calls out, “What is a discount?” Rowan, at this, puts her head in her hands.
The meeting is breaking up. Sara has inflated two rubber gloves into hands and is clapping them together. “The meeting has ended!” cries Rachel, and the younger girls, led by Bay, burst into song, grooving, “I like to move it, move it …”
Downstairs, the last batch of bars is cooling in the Penguin Cave, and the parents are cleaning up. (They get stuck with the dishes.) When the bars are cool, it’s time to finish up the wrapping, in gold paper and sleeves adorned with the girls’ pictures. Bits of broken chocolate sit in a bowl, tempting everyone. “We all really, really, really like chocolate,” says Rachel, jumping side to side. “We never get tired of it.