Chocolate beans
Chocolate beans
Nashville Chocolatier Offers Stone-Ground Sweetness
Southern ingredients meet old-world methods at Olive & Sinclair
By Hollie Deese
Images courtesy of Olive & Sinclair
Scott Witherow was well on his way to becoming a top chef. The Tennessee native had worked in restaurants since he was 15 and put in time at some of the world’s best, from the Fat Duck in Berkshire, U.K., to Alinea in Chicago. And while he strived to always learn from the best, Scott was particularly drawn to desserts and took any opportunity he could to work with them.

And he was good.

Owner Scott Witherow adds roasted cocoa beans to Olive & Sinclair’s antique melangers
Owner Scott Witherow adds roasted cocoa beans to Olive & Sinclair’s antique melangers
Eventually the long, grueling hours of working in restaurants led to feelings of burnout, and he was motivated to move on to something sweeter.

Around the same time, Scott had started making chocolate in his spare time, oven-roasting and cracking the beans at home with a hand-cranked grinder. He added ingredients like chili powder and sea salt and tested his unique creations on his parents.

“I saw there was really no one in the South actually making chocolate,” he says. “Eventually my dad said, ‘Look, if you’re hellbent on staying in this restaurant industry, go with the chocolate.’”

So, in 2009, Scott took the leap and started Olive & Sinclair (O&S) in the basement of a Nashville deli. Two years later, he bought a historical building on Fatherland Street in East Nashville, the perfect setting for the new candy company inspired by local ingredients and old techniques.

“I love old things, be it structures, buildings, antiques—whatever,” Scott says.

Woman holding up chocolate bar
Duck fat caramels package in front of wooden duck
The O&S 67% Cacao Chocolate Bar
O&S caramels made with caramelized cane sugar and duck fat
“I saw there was really no one in the South actually making chocolate,” he says. “Eventually my dad said, ‘Look, if you’re hellbent on staying in this restaurant industry, go with the chocolate.’”
Woman holding up chocolate bar
The O&S 67% Cacao Chocolate Bar
Duck fat caramels package in front of wooden duck
O&S caramels made with caramelized cane sugar and duck fat
“I saw there was really no one in the South actually making chocolate,” he says. “Eventually my dad said, ‘Look, if you’re hellbent on staying in this restaurant industry, go with the chocolate.’”
/ A Trip Through Chocolate
History, With a Modern Spin /
Inside that turn-of-the-century brick building is the perfect evolution of Scott’s idea of what Southern-made candy should be. Today, people who book a tour are immersed in the bean-to-bar process that includes slow-roasting and stone-grinding single-origin cocoa beans in small batches to create delicious chocolate flavors like coffee crunch, Mexican-style cinnamon chili, and salt and pepper. The process is so unique, in fact, that O&S has it trademarked under the name Southern Artisan Chocolate.

Around the time of the move into the historical factory space, Scott brought on his longtime friend Jason Thompson as production manager. When Jason leads a tour of the facility, he hands out hairnets and explains that first, employees hand-sort cocoa beans to ensure only the best are used. Those beans go into the roaster, then they’re moved to the winnower, where the nibs are separated from the shell.

“It’s a glorified nut-cracker,” Jason jokes.

The facade of the historic building that houses O&S
The facade of the historic building that houses O&S
Chocolate being grinded by large melangers
The antique melangers grind cocoa before it’s sweetened with pure cane brown sugar.
As a zero-sum waste facility, O&S ensures no by-product gets thrown out. Discarded nibs and shells are sent to local brewers and distillers to create candy collaborations like Double Chocolate Bourbon from Prichard’s Distillery, or the Bourbon Nib Brittle made in barrels from Corsair Distillery.
The next phase in the process is grinding down the cocoa. “I thought, ‘Being Southern and being bar chocolate makers, how do you do that?’” Scott says. “And in my head, I thought, ‘We stone-grind grits, why shouldn’t we stone-grind chocolate?’”

With Scott’s affinity for all things old, he wanted to incorporate antique equipment into the grinding process. He found two melangers online to grind the beans, one from France and one from Spain. Each 1900s-era machine is 1,200 pounds of granite on granite.

After being ground into a paste for 24 hours, the chocolate enters a secondary refining stage, where the commitment to Southern culinary traditions continues.

“You can’t grow sugar cane in the North. You can only grow sugar cane in the South. So, we decided upon molasses-rich brown sugar to sweeten our chocolate,” Jason says. “We’re one of the few chocolate makers in the United States that embrace such a sweetener.”

It’s also why O&S uses buttermilk in its white chocolate; the acid in the Southern cooking staple balances the strong sweetness of the chocolate.

/ Modern Creations Inspired by Heritage /
“This is a labor of love, and it’s only a love because we labor,” Jason says. “Like raising children or [being in] a committed relationship.”

O&S produces eight different chocolate bars, two caramels, and three cordial-type confections under the moniker Seersucker, all of which can be bought onsite and online. In addition, visitors to the chocolate maker may get the chance to purchase one of O&S’s occasional factory-exclusives, such the limited-edition Bourbon Lover’s Collection that included four varieties of chocolate truffles filled with bourbon-spiked salted caramel, each from a different distillery.

Packaging for Olive & Sinclair chocolates
And if you’re there on days when the UPS man delivers a box of cocoa beans smoked by Allen Benton of Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams, you won’t be able to resist buying a box of the brittle O&S makes from it.

Scott gets inspiration for a lot of his unique candy from his family. For example, the idea for the Duck Fat Caramels (named “Best Made Product” in 2014 by Garden & Gun magazine) came to him one day while cleaning shotguns with his dad.

And the Cherry Bombs were inspired by his grandfather’s constant supply of cherry cordials. Of course, Scott’s version features a Southern spin: pickled maraschino cherries wrapped in buttermilk.

“It all happens organically for us, using what’s in our backyard,” Scott says. “And we’re hopefully making something that makes someone hopeful and joyful.”

“This is a labor of love, and it’s only a love because we labor,” Jason says. “Like raising children or [being in] a committed relationship.”
Visit OliveandSinclair.com to learn more about Olive & Sinclair and order candy online.
About the Writer
Hollie Deese is the publisher of Nashville Interiors magazine. She lives in Gallatin, Tennessee, with her husband and two children.

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