November 25 / 2011

A young Lithuanian opens up ice cream and chocolate business in the countryside

In 2008, when the global recession started, Domantas happened to be coming back home from his Master's Degree studies in London. He remembers himself desperately trying to get hold of any job, but all the efforts were in vain. As to the chocolate, he had it as his passion for many years on the row. It was several times that Domantas was about buying a load of cocoa beans, but was deterred by exponentially increasing prices. Still, one day he did it, and a truck full of cocoa beans arrived.

Domantas Uzpalis. Photo by J. Juršienė / DELFI

Domantas Uzpalis. Photo by J. Juršienė / DELFI

"I didn’t have the slightest idea where to start, but this was actually the moment when the ball started rolling. You have raw material at your hands, and you have to do your best not to waste it. As I have later discovered, this is a matter that requires huge efforts and know-how. There was no way back. I had a ton of cocoa beans, and not a single machine for procession", – smiles Domantas Užpalis.

As I was trying to work out an appropriate solution, suddenly it struck me that I might be eligible to apply for support for small businesses in rural area. In less than a month, I produced all the necessary papers, signed the project, and decided about the partners and location. I made then a gastronomy union with Darius, who had lived in a village.

Kick-off with ice- cream

“Chocolate and ice cream are a perfect match”, – says Domantas.

Full of enthusiasm, the guys started creating their first ice-cream. They consulted technologists, who laughed at them when they said that they would use whole milk for the ice-cream machine. They wouldn’t give up, and the result was different flavour ice cream, for example, parsley ...

 "We have experimented with all sorts of flavour, except tomatoes, I guess. We were thinking of making gazpacho ice-cream, which would not be sweet. But who says that ice cream should be sweet?

 "It has turned out that the Lithuanians are real adventurers, and have a very inquisitive spirit: believe it or not, they want to taste ice-cream of carrot, parsley flavour; and the age bracket is very wide, which has pleasantly surprised us ", – comments the young businessman.

The fate of the first ton of cocoa beans

 "It is being successfully used, which makes us happy, – smiles Domantas.

Currently, there are four employees in the Giedraičiai farm: Darius deals with the ice-cream, Domantas – with chocolate, they are assisted by a wonderful mother of seven Kristina and her daughter Sabina, who do everything that is beyond the power of men. "It would be difficult without them, – admits Domantas Užpalis. Actually, I am very pernickety about everything. I walk everywhere with a dusting tissue, because the product must be made in an appropriate environment.

A complex road to chocolate

 According to Užpalis, small chocolate manufacturers are very few in the world, but they are very creative, and supportive of each other, they get together into clubs, share experience and recipes.

 "So you read the old literature about the chocolate, write letters, enquiries, ask all kinds questions, you get answers or you don’t, you try, you succeed, you fail, you give others to taste, some like it, some don’t, – says Domatas while opening the door into the sweet-shop.

 According to the manufacturer, the birth of chocolate takes at least a week, because in the beginning you roast beans, then you remove the skins, and finally you mill it.  To achieve silky texture of the chocolate, the product must beat in some air to remove volatile acids and unpalatable flavour.

The relationship between the manufacturer and the client

It is important to establish the relationship with clients to walk the road of knowing together with them. My goal now is to reach out to farmers in those countries where the beans are growing: Venezuela and Peru. Other chocolate manufacturers actually work directly with farmers growing beans, paying them higher than the market price, but this way they get in direct contact with the farmer, offering him additional support, as farmers are usually having a difficult time. It often happens that the grower never gets to taste the chocolate made with his beans. Therefore it is the most pleasant thing is to go back to the farmer and savour the chocolate together with him. "

 "Maybe someday we will have a plantation somewhere in Nicaragua and collect our own harvest", – shares his dreams Domantas.

Megapole is the main expected market
Domantas Užpalis says it is no secret that the major target for his handmade chocolate retail is London.

 "What we wish is to go out into as broad market as possible while manufacturing in the village, and selling in a megapole, where chocolate is expected to be more appreciated. It may as well happen that this is the first Lithuanian product that will find the shelves of exclusive shopping centres in London. I am not that self-confident to claim that our chocolate is very good. But I think that we are on the right track”, – says Domantas.

 Currently, the Lithuanian chocolate Chocolate Naïve, handmade in Giedraičiai, is offered to visitors of the cafe chain Fernandez & Wells in London. Hotel Chocolat owner has also expressed his appreciation of the chocolate.

 A successful start is just a way forward

 "Our goal is not a limitless growth. If we grow 2-3 times, it is just right for us, otherwise we have to enlarge our scale in terms of premises, people, machinery. A small-scale production means that you can engrave and temper each bar, personalise it." – says Domantas Užpalis.

 "I am determined to control our growth, and I’d rather raise a price, but not make it a line product. We know how much is enough and our needs are not very high. We eat local products, swim in the lake, and everything we earn, we invest in technology." – says Domantas.