In the 1850′s, Etienne Guittard embarked on an arduous journey from France to America. It was during the California Gold Rush, and in just a few short years, while still in his twenties, this adventuresome Frenchman struck gold on the rough and tumble streets of early San Francisco.
An experienced chocolate maker, Etienne had brought delicious French chocolate to trade for mining supplies, but soon discovered that wealthy miners were willing to pay premium prices for this elegant treat. Etienne sailed back to Tournus, France, where he worked in his uncle’s chocolate factory until he could afford to buy his own chocolate making equipment. In 1868, he returned to San Francisco and opened Guittard Chocolate on Sansome Street.
In no time, San Francisco became one of the great chocolate manufacturing centers in America, where ships from exotic regions of the world brought their cacao beans to market. Of the original family-owned companies that brought commerce and culture to the dusty, often lawless streets of early San Francisco, Guittard Chocolate Company is the only one that remains family-owned.
For Horace C. Guittard, who succeeded his father, Etienne, running the Guittard Chocolate Company would be no less challenging. Along with most of San Francisco, the legendary 1906 earthquake destroyed the family business. Undaunted, Horace quickly rebuilt on Main Street, near the Embarcadero, where he introduced coffee, tea and spices to the family’s offering of fine chocolate.
Horace’s son, Horace A. Guittard, became President of the company in 1950 and relocated the factory to Burlingame in 1955, where it became and still remains one of the foremost suppliers of fine chocolate to acclaimed professionals in pastry, confectionery and ice cream trades. Though Horace A. was instrumental in bringing the company into the era of automation, he continued to operate in the old-world tradition, producing small, carefully tended batches of chocolate and working closely with customers, tailoring products according to their needs. This visionary approach placed the Guittard Chocolate Company at the forefront of innovation for several American food trends.
One of Guittard’s earliest and perhaps most important innovations was their proprietary Guittard Sweet Ground Chocolate, which was used by San Francisco’s Cliff House at the turn of the century and later sponsored a popular radio show. Cliff House Vanilla, a specialty using Guittard Sweet Ground Chocolate, may have been the forerunner of today’s trendy cafe mochas. Guittard milk chocolate chips, white chips and super-sized chips were other notable innovations as was the idea of truffles, which Guittard passed along to some of their confectionary customers.