Images by Kristin Teig
For Nicole Coady, everything about her new company, Fixx Chocolates, is intensely personal. She even named all but one of the 14 artisanal chocolate bars that make up her product line after members of her family. The pastry chef-turned-chocolatier started developing the bars last July. When she made her first delivery, to Savenor's, in late March, she says, "I couldn't get the stupid smile off my face."
Coady's enthusiasm is infectious. Her Southern warmth is probably a factor (born and raised in West Virginia, she went to school in South Carolina and worked in Kentucky, Alabama, and Georgia, before moving to Massachusetts) and the location of our meeting might play a role. As we talk, Coady is stirring a large bowl of melted chocolate in the kitchen of the Wicked Good Cupcakes shop in Cohasset, where she produces the bars. The intoxicating chocolate aroma rises from the bowl and mingles with the sugary scent of cupcakes and buttercream frosting already permeating the air. It would be hard for anybody—let alone a sucker for fine confections (guilty!)—not to feel like that proverbial kid you know where.
But there is a lot more to what Coady is doing than making something new and sweet. With Fixx, she is recasting classic American candy bars in a decidedly upscale mold—without the molds. "I touch every single bar," she notes, adding that she also eats one every day. The bars look handmade—which is not to say they are not beautiful. Each Fixx bar is about two inches long by an inch across, with dark, milk or white chocolate enrobing a variety of crisp, nougat, and caramel fillings. As a finishing touch, Coady applies decorative thermal transfers like those seen on fine bonbons, a few sprinkles of sea salt, a pretzel stick. These are not your mother's candy bars.
The seeds of Coady's transition from pastry chef to chocolatier were planted in Madagascar last summer, when she was on a Valrhona-sponsored trip with seven of this country's leading artisanal chocolatiers. The trip was an anniversary gift from Finale, where she had been executive pastry chef for 14 years. The group's first stop was at a vanilla plantation where, Coady says, she just stood outside and inhaled "the most amazing vanilla." The group planted vines there, then moved on to a cacao plantation. "I put on rubber boots and stomped on the beans," she says, adding that she was the only member of the group to do so.
Before Madagascar, Coady had never ventured outside the United States. She describes her experience there as "life-changing." In the fall of 2011, she says she had started to think, "Next year is going to be a year of change. [But] it never entered my head to do chocolates." As she got to know her traveling companions and hear their stories—some had started as chocolatiers, others as pastry chefs, and one had been a banker—she thought, "If they could do this, I can do this."
Back home in mid-July, 2012, Coady's epiphany came during a phone conversation with one of the chocolatiers. The two were discussing their favorite candy bars—hers is the Clark Bar. "I thought, I can make a better Clark Bar," she says. "I can make a better Snickers Bar. I got goose bumps. My heart was racing. I walked into my kitchen and thought, this is what I'm going to do. This is it." At the same time, she knew starting a business was a serious undertaking that required re- search and calm.
A month later, while still working at Finale, Coady had developed her first six bars—at home, in her off hours, in the summer, a time not exactly conducive to working with chocolate in a home kitchen. She shipped them to a cousin she considers "my target market." Her cousin loved them, so she sent them to another round of relatives, including her parents and three siblings.
Once she had her family's positive feedback, Coady sent her bars to a few chocolatier friends. She visited John Doyle of John & Kira's in Philadelphia, who had been on the trip, to study his operation; and acclaimed chocolatier Michael Recchiuti in San Francisco, whom she had met when the two worked on a project for Valrhona." They have been amazing," she says of all the chocolatiers whose advice she solicited." The trip was the first time I had met many of them but they were all amazing people and very generous with any question I asked. I don't remember any of them being competitive in their discussions."
Though nobody is likely to confuse a Fixx chocolate bar with anything available in a grocery or convenience store, there are some similarities. Chelle's, named for Coady's older sister, with cashew nougat, caramel, and roasted cashews, could put one in mind of a Snicker's bar; Maddy's, named for Madagascar, featuring praline and peanut crunch enrobed in dark chocolate and finished with sea salt, is her version of a Clark Bar. Other bars were inspired by their namesakes. Hersh's, with coffee nougat and malt balls wrapped in coffee chocolate, was named for the chocolatier's grandfather, who drank coffee starting first thing in the morning until the last moment before he got into bed. Mike's, an almond nougat bar with tart cherries, is named for Coady's father, who always backed his truck up under the family cherry tree to catch the fruit that would fall as she and her siblings jumped up and down on its limbs. And Nikki's, peanut butter nougat with maple caramel and apple-smoked bacon, reflects the way its creator most enjoys her buttermilk pancakes.
Launching a new business has been an experience Coady describes as "a crazy, exciting venture that's the most exciting thing I've ever done." Deciding what she wanted to make, and creating the bars, has probably been the easiest part. Throughout her 22-year career, Coady notes, "I've always considered myself a pastry chef that dabbled in chocolate." But everything else—from figuring out what kinds of certifications she needed, and getting them, to finding a location to produce the bars (Coady's friend, Tracy Noonan, who owns Wicked Good Cupcakes, offered her space in the shop's kitchen), designing the packaging, selling, marketing, and delivering the bars—was new to her. "I've run into a great array of characters," the new business owner notes. "Some want to help with... strings attached. Some are just very generous souls."
Naming the company was another challenge. "I wanted something that said, 'Audrey Hepburn on a Vespa;' elegant and fun," she says. She asked friends, relatives, and strangers for suggestions. Finally, in a New York restaurant, she showed a young server a photo of a Christopher Elbow bonbon (they are all miniature pieces of art in chocolate) and the server responded, "Oh, that's a fetish." Coady looked up synonyms for fetish and came up with the French word fixe, which she transposed to Fixx.
It doesn't take more than one taste to trigger a craving for your next Fixx.
Fixx Chocolates are available at:
Savenor's 160 Charles Street, Boston 617. 723.6328
Savenor's 92 Kirkland Street, Cambridge 617. 576.6328
Cocoanuts 28 Parmenter Street, Boston 857.263.7768
Food writer Andrea Pyenson is a suburban empty nester finding creative ways to fill her extra time and closet space.