DOUBLE FEATURE: RIP Dead Dog Chocolate, Viva Cultura Craft Chocolate

Fridge art, curated by Heather Holland

On my fridge, alphabet magnets and spur of the moment poems are scattered across the door, with mementos weighed down in between. A Valentine's card from a local taco vendor called Fresa's reads, "I love being jalepeno business." An Everest Beer label from Nepal reminds me to work hard to play hard, and because the girly side of me thinks it's too cute to use, a little rub on tattoo of a dog's skeleton is proudly preserved.

Closeup of the tattoo on fridge in previous photo, Logo of Dead Dog Chocolate,  photo by HH

Closeup of the tattoo on fridge in previous photo, Logo of Dead Dog Chocolate,  photo by HH

So what's with the tattoo?  Some of you may have never seen this logo before, and sadly, may never get to see it on the market again.

This cutie is the former logo of a Denver based bean to bar chocolate company, Dead Dog Chocolate.  Back in 2014, co-founders Katelyn and Damaris agreed to an interview with me for a book, but we decided to go ahead and share this sweet little piece of history here. Since then, many things have changed. Before diving into the sweet little piece of history, Damaris Graves answered a few questions for me to help keep us up to speed:

Death means change. What changes occurred that lead to the reshaping of your brand?  How did Dead Dog Chocolate come to an end?

In the beginning of 2016 Katelyn decided to pursue other interests in her life and stop making chocolate. At the same time, the co-founder of Mutari chocolate, Matt Armstrong, moved to Colorado and began working with me. While I have always loved Dead Dog Chocolate, I felt the name had become a distraction. I felt like I spent more time defending the name than being able to talk about our products. With Katelyn leaving and Matt joining, I felt like it was a perfect opportunity to redefine our brand while still staying true to our original values.

If anything, what will you miss about Dead Dog Chocolate?

I will, of course, miss working with Katelyn, who is now my sister in law. I will also miss the controversy of our name. While it became exhausting trying to defend it, I appreciated the fact that it provoked people and created a conversation. I will also miss our Dead Dog tattoos!

What are you most excited about in the evolution of your brand?

I have always found one of the best ways to learn is to embrace change. It is a philosophy I have held onto throughout my chocolate making experience and what has allowed me to be creative, to grow and to improve as business and chocolate maker. While Dead Dog Chocolate may be ending, its existence was crucial to getting me where I am today. Our new brand Cultura Craft Chocolate embodies that history and is a reflection of my experience and evolution.

Why the name Cultura Craft Chocolate?

I wanted to create a brand that held onto the spirit of Dead Dog Chocolate while incorporating all the changes that were happening. Both Matt and I have very different experiences with cacao. This brand embraces these differences and reflects our evolution in the chocolate world.

Where do you see chocolate taking you in the future (literally or metaphorically)?

There is still so much I don't know about chocolate and I feel like a lifetime could be spent learning about it. Some short term goals include being able to visit more cacao farms and learning about what is happening on the farm level; understanding more about the history of chocolate and its importance in so many different cultures both in the past and today.

An official introduction online teases the newest line of dark chocolate bars. "Say hello to Cultura Craft Chocolate." Photo by Cultura Craft Chocolate

*Please note that the death and rebirth of a chocolate brand, the images, and discussion in this post are not in any way making light of the cultural traditions of any people. My thoughts and prayers go out to all observing the loss of their loved ones during El Dia de Los Muertos, All Saints' Day, and All Souls' Day. Kindly, Heather Holland


Name: Damaris Graves

Hometown: Denver, CO

Family: Most of my family lives here in Denver but I also have family in Mexico from my mom’s side and in Finland from my husband’s side.

Hobbies: Cooking! I’m always experimenting and love learning about modern cooking techniques. I also love hiking, running, biking and seeing new places.

Personal Motto: To be curious about everything. There is so much interesting stuff happening in this world. I only wish there was time to explore everything.

Damaris Graves, (Right) and Katelyn Fox (Left), Co-founders of Denver based bean to bar chocolate company, Dead Dog Chocolate, Photo courtesy of Damaris

Damaris Graves, (Right) and Katelyn Fox (Left), Co-founders of Denver based bean to bar chocolate company, Dead Dog Chocolate, Photo courtesy of Damaris

How did you two meet?

I met Katelyn almost ten years ago when she started dating my brother. When I moved back to Colorado 4 years ago we became much closer and eventually decided to go into business together.

What inspired you to make your own chocolate?

 I had previously worked as a pastry chef and was curious about learning the process behind making certain products. I used to follow a cooking blog called “Cooking Issues” and in one of the issues they mentioned making “ketchup chocolate”. Essentially they were trying to replicate the texture of chocolate with other products. Anyway, through that blog I found Chocolate Alchemy, a site devoted to teaching people how to make bean-to-bar chocolate at home. I figured why not give it a shot? Since Katelyn has been working for another chocolatier we decided to pursue this together.

Why the name Dead Dog Chocolate?

We really wanted to have a name that matched the values and culture behind our company. We wanted it to be edgy, creative, funny, and authentic. It was actually our mascot’s owner, Ross who suggested the name. Ross was Katelyn’s roommate and their dog, Scout was always around. When we first started make chocolate we did a lot of it at Katelyn’s house and we constantly joked about how we needed to make sure to not leave any chocolate out otherwise “Scout would be a dead dog”.  When we decided on the name we felt that not only could we help remind people to never feed their dog chocolate but that we could tie in the Mexican influence our company has by creating a Day of the Dead inspired logo.

Tell me about your mascot:

Scout is our mascot. He is a blue healer that used to live with Katelyn. Even though he is not around as much anymore he still holds a special place in heart and will forever be our mascot.

Scout the dog, photo by Jacoby Design, courtesy of Damaris Graves

What tips/tricks do you have to keep dogs safe from chocolate? Are there any alternatives for them you recommend?

Dogs are allergic to a stimulant in chocolate called theobromine. The higher the percentage of cacao in chocolate the more theobromine there will be. Cats and other animals are also allergic to theobromine but dogs specifically love sweet things which is why you always hear about chocolate being bad for dogs and not cats or other animals. I definitely recommend keeping chocolate on high shelves. Of course, the size of the dog and the amount of chocolate they consume will determine if they get sick or not. I have had people tell me their dogs have eaten multiple bars of chocolate and been fine. I would definitely always be cautious though, no matter the size of your dog. I have heard of some companies that used carob in dog treats. That is a possible alternative for dogs as it doesn’t contain theobromine.

Please describe the quality and sourcing of your ingredients:

We source beans from Central and South America that is always organic and ethically sourced. Most of the beans we use are fair trade but some come from such small farms that fair trade certification isn’t feasible. We do always make sure that farmers are receiving fair wages and that our cacao is always of the highest quality.

Describe your roles with the company (who does what):

Katelyn and I try to split the work evenly. Our production, marketing and sales is split with each of us having specific tasks and accounts that we work with. Since I have an office management background I tend to handle most of the administrative tasks. However, we always try to make sure we are on the same page of things and our completely transparent with each other.

Has anyone influenced or inspired you directly in the chocolate world?

If so, who and how? I really didn’t know much about the craft chocolate world until we started this business. However, while I was in school in Somerville, MA I used to always buy Taza Chocolate and loved their authentic Mexican-style chocolate. Since starting the business, Potomac Chocolate, Dick Taylor, and Dandeloin have all been inspiration.

What is your favorite kind of chocolate?

I love Mexican style chocolate that is a little spicy and a little gritty.

Do you have a favorite product that you make?

Our Mexican drinking chocolate and our Mexican chocolate bar are my two favorite. I also never thought I would like white chocolate or lavender but our cherry lavender truffle in white chocolate is one of my favorites.

What do you enjoy pairing chocolate with? 

Wine, whiskey, coffee are all great. I also love cooking with chocolate. We make an authentic mole poblano sauce with our chocolate.

Is there anything you think chocolate doesn't go with?

No, at least I haven’t encountered anything. I think that cacao in some form can pair with almost anything.

What is your favorite chocolate related memory?

When I used to go backpacking with my dad he used to always save a Special extra dark Hershey’s bar for when we were 3-4 days into our trip. It was definitely the most delicious thing to eat after being in the wilderness for a few days.

If you were to receive the death sentence, what would you choose as your last meal? Dessert?

Mexican food definitely! My mom makes this soup called guachemole and it definitely the best thing ever! Definitely a piece of whiskey chocolate for dessert as well.

Do you have any traditions you follow for El Dia de Los Muertos?

My family doesn’t really have any traditions here in the U.S. but when we go to Mexico my family goes to the graveyard with lots of candles and flowers and then has a huge feast at midnight.

Is this the last of the tea? Stashed, sipped, and photographed by Heather Holland