When you walk into Nuance Chocolate shop in Fort Collins, the large glass case is the first thing you’ll notice. Inside lie perfect truffles, adorned with indications of their fillings. One has an espresso bean at its peak, another, a rose petal. Maybe the dark chocolate truffle topped with lemon is the one that catches your eye — that French candied lemon peel is the fruit of a food partnership with Savory Spice Shop.
Other truffle crossovers that you might notice include Happy Lucky’s chai, the mulled wine truffle via Blue Skies Winery and a variety of truffles flavored with spirits from bourbon to peach brandy with liquors from Feisty Spirits.
These food partnerships are not exclusive to Nuance — many shops in the Fort Collins food industry have discovered the benefits of keeping goods local. Savory Spice Shop also supplies spices to Wing Shack, Alleycat Coffee House and Rebel Popcorn to name a few.
Blue Skies Winery works with Jaws Sushi, The Common Link and others. The Waltzing Kangaroo serves Coffee Registry Brews, Starry Night Espresso and Wild Boar Café serve Denver-based Coda Coffee, and the Boar also has a local kombucha, Bootleg Boocha, on tap.
Why work with local shops?
For Nuance co-owner Toby Gadd, it gives him the chance to “create products that we couldn’t make if we didn’t sit down with the creators.” He says getting together with other foodies is vital to making the best creations possible.
Since Nuance opened in October 2014, it has expanded to include the highest number of single-origin chocolate bars in the nation, and it has also added flavored bars like flaked coconut, chile and sea salt.
According to Dr. Stephan Weiler, professor of economics at Colorado State University, “This is a strategy that underlies shopping malls.” At malls, the largest stores pay lower rent, and small shops pay more to be next to the giants like Macy’s, Harkins Theatres or Nordstrom.
Weiler says that the way it works, the smaller stores gain more business from the customers that are on their way to the bigger ones. Clustering shops together like Old Town Fort Collins does has the same effect.
For the owner of Savory Spice Shop, former Fort Collins Mayor Susan Kirkpatrick, food partnerships “make sense economically for everyone.” Savory Spice offers quality spices at affordable, fair prices. Local restaurants often list the shop as a source on their menus, paying it forward to Kirkpatrick.
Apart from supplying spices to restaurants, she says she also wants to give locals an outlet to sell their wares. “Farmers market folks don’t have a retail outlet,” Kirkpatrick says, and that’s why she purchases their goods for resale in her store. Items vary from gluten-free baking mixes by Grace’s Custom Creations, to handmade peppermills made by Jim Bennet in Bellvue.
Another important factor on Kirkpatrick’s mind is the environmental impact. By partnering with local businesses she says the transportation distance can be lessened, which reduces cost and impact on the climate.
Nuance Chocolate buyers may also be potential customers of Happy Lucky’s Tea House, which Weiler says is “a really nice way of combining two people’s interests.”
He says this system would be called a complement rather than a substitute in economic terms. Instead of competing for customers’ business, shops share the overlap in interests. It’s effective because it increases the demand for the products while lowering the cost of supply with the lack of long-distance transportation.
These food partnerships also increase quality standards — businesses are held accountable when consumers know that they’re nearby. If a customer isn’t satisfied, he or she won't return and will tell friends and family to do the same.
In Fort Collins, the most obvious partnerships are between breweries and food vendors. Food trucks offer sausages cooked in local beer, and most restaurants make sure to have the well-known favorites on tap or incorporate them into dishes. Mainline Ale House is known for this, with its Odell’s Tree Shaker Peach IPA-braised pork belly tacos and seasonal cakes like the chocolate slice with vanilla porter frosting.
“I have a feeling this occurs quite a bit in many different places,” says Weiler. Primarily in downtowns about the size of Fort Collins’, perhaps in close neighborhoods, or even sectors of Denver, in his estimation. He says he doesn’t see why the Chamber of Commerce wouldn’t encourage these partnerships.
With this system, “Both [stores] reinforce each other,” creating a more interesting shopping experience and benefitting the community.
Nuance Chocolate and Savory Spice Shop show no signs of slowing down, and it seems that other local vendors will only continue to catch up with the trend that they’ve set.