What happens when you mix one part chocolate, two parts ambition, and equal parts creativity and talented staff? You get the Chocolaterian Café on Atwood Avenue.
Leanne Cordisco and Kimberly Vrubley are the owners and brainpower behind the Chocolaterian Café. They met years ago through Kimberly’s husband, Dan, and became great friends. It’s easy to see that there’s a yin and yang quality to their friendship. Where Leanne is gregarious, her mind continually occupied with dreaming up “what’s next,” Kimberly is quiet and clearly the grounding influence that keeps their ship on an even keel. Together, they’ve created a place that’s a heady blend of warmth, character, and decadent chocolate creations that just works.
When I ask them why here and why now, both smile and look at one another. Leanne speaks first, explaining that she had wanted to leave corporate America and open a restaurant for years, but the circumstances had never been right. It was Kimberly who first found the store space in the Schenk-Huegel building, and when Kimberly brought Leanne to see it, they knew they’d found their perfect spot. The old space has a new look, but it remains awash in a subtly nostalgic feel that stems from the old glass display cases, warm wood floors, a demure (yet rich) color palette, and of course, the divine chocolaty aroma from the kitchen.
The name of the business is an intentional blend of the words “chocolate” and either “proletarian” or “vegetarian,” depending on the day you ask them about it. They wanted the name to reflect their vision for a place to enjoy superb chocolate creations that was a welcoming place for everyone. An oasis, if you will.
Their decadent menu offerings may change regularly, but Kimberly points out that the Chocolaterian Café will always be a European-inspired dessert café with one or two savory offerings—not a restaurant with a few dessert items on the side.
Their hope for the café is that it truly adds to the already vibrant food scene in the Atwood-Williamson Street neighborhood. “We really believe that the tide raises all ships,” Leanne says. To that end, they look to differentiate themselves from other confectioners by offering a wide variety of cookies, bars, tarts, and other dessert items. Their inviting, comfortable space encourages you to stay awhile and linger over conversation, a book, or your laptop.
As we continue the interview, Leanne and I discuss what it means to her to be an out businesswoman in Madison. “You know, Madison’s a place where people can live authentically,” she says. “Living authentically is very important to me as a completely out lesbian. It allows me to be my best self, which carries over into our business.” If the crowds that have been present every time I’ve visited are any indication of their success, I’d say that authenticity is definitely working for them.
“Oasis” really is the ideal word to describe the Chocolaterian Café. The next time you’re in the neighborhood, stop in and lose yourself for an afternoon. Trust me; it’s time well spent.
The Chocolaterian Café is also the home base for Christine’s Toffee (so good, it was added to the 2011 Emmy Awards Swag Bags). To learn more about the owners, the menu, and the toffee, please visit www.chocolateriancafe.com for all the delightfully decadent details.