INSIDE THE LOVE BOX: Michiko Marron-Kibbey

What is the name of your company? 

Deux Cranes Chocolates and Confections

When was the company founded? 

September of 2018

Tell us the story of how you brought your company to life. 

My husband and I had just returned from a year studying and working in Paris and I knew that I didn't want to lose momentum so I started the company as soon as we returned to the US.

It was originally going to be a bakery concept but when I learned that the bakery market was a bit over-saturated in San Diego I decided to go with my instinct and passion and start a chocolates business.

I knew what I wanted to do was make chocolates, even before we moved to Paris. I think they're the perfect vehicle for flavor-especially when you move away from overpowering dark chocolate flavor profiles. Don't get me wrong-dark chocolate is a beautiful flavor but there are so many other options out there!

Cocoa butter is such a magical ingredient and I love playing with its potential. But I have always been fairly type-A and thought I needed to start with something more conventional like a bakery. I'm so glad I didn't since I am not a morning person at all! We originally launched in local farmers markets in San Diego.

How did you feel after it launched? 

It felt incredibly overwhelming and intimidating because I had so much to learn still. I had only worked in pastry shops and never in a chocolate production full time so there were a lot of kinks to iron out in my production process.

I was also working in a shared kitchen so that posed a lot of challenges. Plus when you're a solo-entrepreneur you do everything! So whether it was learning how to pop open a tent at my first market or navigate marketing tactics I was a complete novice and just had to keep charging forward no matter the obstacle in my path. 

Where do you draw your design and product inspiration from? 

I try to incorporate food memories from growing up in Japan and from my travels as much as possible. I'm also really inspired by nature and the seasonality of food culture which is very important in Japanese culinary traditions. I Iove making seasonal products that are rooted in Japanese food culture. It's so fun to introduce an American audience to different kinds of Japanese ingredients through the lens of chocolate. 

What is the process that you go through to create new chocolate flavors?

I love seeing the evolution of traditional ingredients and how they become modern through new applications. So I often like to think about how to take a traditional ingredient and make it feel new.

When we were able to travel more widely, I would use those adventures to look for new flavors. However, with Covid-19 and travel restrictions I have to be a little more creative so I'll go to the Asian markets and walk down the spice or baking aisles.

I also love looking through cookbooks and magazines to imagine what something might taste like and then try to apply it to chocolate. 

Was there a defining moment in your company’s history (so far) when you knew you created something special? 

When I first started, I had a much more Americanized lineup of bars: peppermint bark and salted almond etc. But I noticed when I would sell at the farmer's markets that the more unique flavors like matcha chocolate or a garlic vanilla caramel (really!) sold much more because they were something new and unusual that people wanted to try.

That realization gave me a lot of freedom to be more creative, think outside the box more etc. It was exhilarating to feel like my unique ideas were something that people desired.  

What has been the reaction of customers to your brand?

Overwhelmingly positive honestly. We have the best clients and I feel so incredibly fortunate to have such wonderful people supporting us.

We are still very small (we just added a second full time chocolatier) and have a very small kitchen, so we don't have the capacity to produce a ton of product as it's all hand-made.

Our clients are so understanding of this and look forward to trying our treats with so much patience. It's so wonderful to hear that our flavors resonate with people, especially because they are a very unique product.

Any special customer stories that you want to share? 

There are so many wonderful interactions I get to have with customers! When we first opened our shop in Los Gatos, CA, I had the most delightful older couple come in to buy chocolate because they were going to get their vaccines and they wanted something that might boost their spirits.

It turned out that they loved Japan and had traveled there many times so we got to reminisce about Japan and the wonderful things they saw and ate together. It was like being able to travel again through their memories every time they came in. Such a special moment to see how our chocolates could remind them of their precious memories, especially when so many of us are unable to travel at the moment.

It really made me realize that my dream of extending and celebrating the Japanese culinary tradition was possible.

At FRUITLOOTS, we call all the amazing products that we find our “loot”. What's a favorite piece of “loot” you have created?

I made a Kinako and Araré Milk Chocolate bar that was so delicious! I loved being able to introduce people to the amazing aroma of kinako (a roasted soy powder that's often used in japanese confections). It's so roasty and toasty and almost peanut-y. It was such a wonderful product!

Tell us about the FRUITLOOTS products that we have chosen. (Dark Chocolate Strawberry & Passionfruit Bars) 

These two bars have been best sellers since I started selling them when we first started! I use Valrhona chocolate in all of our products and they created these two fruit couvetures. They use dehydrated fruit juice powders in place of milk powder and it produces a powerful fruity flavor that is almost more sorbet like in nature.

The couvetures are quite intense so I balance them by pairing them with complementary elements such as cocoa nibs and a unique 70% dark chocolate blend that we do in-house. People love the intensity and fruitiness of these bars and I do too!

Where do you see your company in 10 years? 

I want to continue to grow Deux Cranes so that we can be ambassadors for how Japanese culinary tradition has evolved through time. I'd love to have a presence internationally, especially in Japan.  

If you could do a special collaboration with any person in the world, who would it be and why? 

It's such a dream to work with Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama who is such an inspiration for me. I love how bold and courageous she is. She takes her fears and anxieties and creates beauty with them-I can't imagine a more courageous thing.

Since Deux Cranes' design aesthetic favors minimalism and clean lines in classic colors, I would love to see how she incorporates her signature playfulness and boldness into our chocolates.

Any advice to young female & AAPI entrepreneurs? 

My biggest lesson so far has been to trust my instincts and embrace my fears. As a business owner, there are a million decisions to make and it can be very overwhelming at times. I can also be overly self-critical and anxious about decision making sometimes (which is a trait a lot of us share, I think) and have had to overcome that doubt and fear as I grow with my company.

It isn’t easy but I just remind myself of where I want the company to grow to and what that will look like and it helps make big decisions feel more manageable.

If you could throw a party, with an unlimited budget and you could invite anyone, tell us about the party and who would be there! 

I've lived in 13 different cities and four different countries in my lifetime so I have a lot of friends from far places that I haven’t had a chance to see in a long, long time. I would love to have them all in the same place so we can catch up and spend time together!

I would love it to be casual and fun-with delicious food from Japan, Thailand, France, California, New York etc. And I would love it to be in a beautiful natural environment where we can be outdoors in the sun and fresh air.

Also, can Beyoncé be there? I can only imagine that every party with Beyoncé ends up being the best party.

Last question - If you could be any fruit, what would it be and why? 

This is so hard because I love fruit! But I think a mangosteen. I studied abroad in Thailand in college and ate so much fruit there. I love all fruits but I have a very special place in my heart for tropical fruits. I love that its looks are deceiving. You would never expect such delicate, aromatic fruit from something with such a hard shell. The complexity and subtle aroma of the mangosteen and the texture of the fruit is so beautiful.

Plus I love that they look like they have little hats on them too-so cute!

For more information on Deux Cranes and to check out the rest of their collection, click here

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Photos courtesy of Michiko Marron-Kibbey & Deux Cranes

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