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June 15, 2015 On the record

Black Dinah Chocolatiers moves production to Westbrook, but brand still rooted in Isle au Haut

Photo / Tim Greenway Steve and Kate Shaffer of Black Dinah Chocolatiers in their new production space at 869 Main St., Westbrook. An open house is scheduled there on June 20, from noon to 2 p.m.

Since Steve and Kate Shaffer launched Black Dinah Chocolatiers from Isle au Haut in 2007, their hand-crafted truffles and gourmet confections have earned a raft of national awards for their flavor and artistry, as well as their sustainable and socially-responsible sourcing.

The company, named for a rocky outcropping near their island home, has been featured in magazines like Martha Stewart Living and Gourmet. Kate Shaffer has been named one of the nation's top chocolatiers.

Black Dinah chocolates are sold online, in 29 retail stores throughout the country, at a tasting room in Blue Hill and at their café on Isle au Haut. The company has nine employees.

This month, the Shaffers will move chocolate production from a 500-square-foot barn on Isle au Haut into a 4,255-square-foot space in Westbrook. There will be a grand opening on June 18 and an open day for the public from noon to 2 p.m. on June 20.

Steve Shaffer recently spoke with Mainebiz about the company's past and future.

Mainebiz: Why are you moving?

Steve Shaffer: Island life has been great for us. But moving to Westbrook will make hiring and shipping much easier. At Christmas, for example, when we would be shipping out 400 boxes per day, we would have to pack them up in a small space, load them into big coolers, put them into the truck and onto the mail boat. Then, on the mainland, we had to hoist the boxes off the dock for the UPS truck to pick them up. With the move to Westbrook, we won't have to spend all that time just getting on and off the island. We can focus on our business growth. Also, if we wanted to increase our production capacity on the island, we didn't have that option.

MB: What are your hiring plans?

SS: It's hard to gauge how much labor we'll really need. On the island, so much labor was needed just to get things on and off the boat.

MB: What are the plans for your operations on Isle au Haut and Blue Hill?

SS: The Black Dinah Café on Isle au Haut will be closed this season. We plan to build a new cafe at the barn where the production facility was and open it next season. We also plan to teach classes there and make that into a test kitchen. Once the Westbrook operation is up and running, we want to get Kate back on the island so she can get back to her writing, creating and cooking. The island is the most inspirational place for her. There will be no change to the tasting room in Blue Hill.

MB: What were the upsides of being based on the island?

SS: From the get-go, the island community has been incredibly supportive and really helped us grow, and the summer residents told people they knew back home about us. The café has been a sort of melting pot. When island and summer people were thrown into a small space, they would start conversations, or interact in a different way than they did on the street. I loved watching people come in and develop friendships there. That's what I love about food; it is such a leveling product. Everyone can appreciate really good food and a nice space.

MB: How has living on an island impacted your business?

SS: On an island, you're living closer to the bone. You see how businesses really influence communities. You see the effect of giving someone a year-round job, and how that changes their life. The café gave high school and college kids a chance to come home during the summer, have jobs and gain another set of skills. And you see how bringing people to the island affects the community. And living in such close proximity to other people on an island, you see more of people's lives than you would on the mainland. It really expands how you hold them. You're not so quick to see just the good or the bad. You understand the larger context.

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