Dan Bieser Makes a Home for Tabal Chocolate in Washington Park Kitchen
When the average customer walks into Amaranth Bakery in Washington Park and buys a bar of Tabal chocolate, he has no inkling that every step of the manufacture of that bar was carried out with care in that very building. Tucked away in spaces that customers never see, Dan Bieser is developing his "bean to bar" chocolate business. The two-story building was not designed with a commercial chocolatier in mind, so he gets creative with the spaces he has; he roasts cacao beans in the Amaranth ovens, winnows cacao nibs apart from the husks in a former coal storage room in the basement, and cools the blended chocolate in the modest kitchen and pantry space on the second floor. Bieser is passionate about the art of chocolate making, and his illustration of the process is a rich sensory experience. The deep velvety smell of roasted cacao --“like banana bread,” he suggests – the crash and crackle of the beans as they are poured and split open, the whir of the tempering and stone-grinding machines, the slick shiny splatters of liquid chocolate as it is poured into molds, and the dark sweetness of the bars he gives us to taste make potent impressions as he takes us through the motions of his business.
At the beginning of our interview, Bieser said "I tell people, picture your Grandma's old duplex and her kitchen, and that's basically what we have to work in." It wasn't until later that we realized that he was literally picturing his own grandmother's kitchen. His grandparents lived in Washington Park, just a few blocks away, in a duplex. Bieser's childhood memories of spending time in their house and of visiting small businesses in the neighborhood with them reveal the deep local roots of his entrepreneurial values. Even though he did not set out expressly to return to Washington Park, the memories that shaped him led him on a path straight back there to his little kitchen on Lisbon Avenue.
Why Lisbon Avenue?
When Bieser's fledgling chocolate business outgrew his kitchen at home in Glendale, he started asking around about potential places to set up shop. Two separate people told him to talk to David Boucher, owner of Amaranth Bakery in Washington Park. Bieser walked into the bakery, Dave said he could use the space, and just like that, a new chapter for Tabal chocolate (and for the building) had begun. As Bieser's business grows, so do his chocolate-making needs. What was already a makeshift space is now bursting at the seams with ingredients, machinery, and cooling bars of chocolate. But rather than moving to a bigger location, Bieser puts in extra work to adapt the existing space. Why? The answer is right in the name of his chocolate: TABAL, the Mayan word for relationship. While he develops his international ties, Bieser is also cultivating relationships with his neighbors Dave and Muneer, with his two part-time employees, and with other local businesses and residents as he establishes Tabal's presence in Washington Park.
Dan Bieser, interview by Matthew Honer, Tessa Begay and Juliana Glassco, June 2014.
Emily Patti, "Chocolate Made in Milwaukee," Shepherd Express, July 3, 2014, 17.
Dan Bieser on chocolate making.
The Milwaukee duplex.
Dan Bieser speaks of building trust through relationships.