North Charleston man turns chocolate bar business into successful venture
Like many people, Johnny Battles has a sweet tooth. But he’s turned that craving into a business that feeds others’ yearnings for chocolate treats.
At a glance
COMPANY: SweeteethBUSINESS: ChocolateADDRESS: 4845-D Chateau Ave., North CharlestonOWNER: Johnny E. BattlesAGE: 30FROM: Hammondville, Ala.RESIDENCE: North CharlestonFAMILY: One child, Liam, 4EDUCATION: Some college at the University of Alabama and Culinary Institute at Trident Technical CollegeWORK EXPERIENCE: Norman- dy Farms, Whole Foods, EVO Pizza.WEBSITE: sweeteethchocolate.comPRODUCTS: Sea is for Caramel, made with salted caramel; PB&C, made of dark and milk chocolate, peanut butter and chipotle peppers; Call of the Wild, made with port wine; Cinnapsis, made of dark and milk chocolate, dried apples, candied pecans and cinnamon; The A’Chocolypse, made of dark chocolate, ginger and pop rocks; and O-Snap, made of white chocolate.
The former chocolatier and pastry maker at EVO pizzeria in North Charleston struck out on his own four years ago with an idea of making specialty chocolate bars with unusual ingredients.
Last year, in a small production kitchen he shares with King of Pops popsicles in North Charleston’s Olde Village, Battles made more than 40,000 chocolate bars under the label Sweeteeth he solely owns and operates with one employee beside himself.
“I don’t think it would be hard to make 80,000 bars this year,” he said.
Sweeteeth comes in different flavors and is sold in specialty shops in more than 25 states, usually for $5 to $7, depending on the size of the bar. Orders can range from a few dozen to 500, and new accounts are being added each week.
The business has grown so much that Battles realizes he will outgrow the current shared kitchen by year’s end, have to expand into a larger space and add a couple more employees to keep up with demand.
Battles grew up in a small town in northeastern Alabama. He’s always loved to cook.
Though he attended the University of Alabama to study anthropology in 2001, he left for The Netherlands, moved back to Alabama and then to Charleston in 2002.
From the bakery at an East Cooper supermarket to a Goose Creek catering business and other odd jobs, Battles honed his skills in the local food trade.
While working at Normandy Farm Bakery, he met Matt Macintosh. They became friends. Battles left that job in 2005 to work at Whole Foods in Mount Pleasant; Macintosh left later to launch EVO.
They eventually met back up again, as Battles went to work in EVO as a sous chef.
On Sundays and Mondays, when the restaurant was closed, he used the kitchen to make chocolate truffles.
The restaurant bought the ingredients, Battles made the treats on his own time, and the restaurant sold them.
In between work, he briefly attended the Culinary Institute of Charleston at Trident Technical College but realized he already was doing a lot of what they were teaching and decided his busy schedule didn’t really allow time for school.
In 2007, he made his first chocolate bar with salted caramel. He hadn’t settled on a name for the bars, but toyed with several before initially calling them Johnny’s Sweeteeth.
It eventually was shortened to Sweeteeth.
After consulting with Fuzzco, a local branding and design firm, he accepted its collage pattern prevalent on the packaging of his chocolate bars.
He sold his first bars at EVO, where they still can be bought. EVO remains one of Battles’ biggest customers.
In 2009, Battle struck out on his own, initially in a small kitchen off Remount Road in North Charleston. Later, he moved the business to the Olde Village in a climate-controlled kitchen where the temperature must be kept below 69 degrees to maintain the chocolate’s consistency.
Blocks or half-dollar-size discs of chocolate arrive from Colombia. Battles melts them down in a tempering machine or a double boiler, pours the chocolate into preformed molds, adds fillings such as caramel, peanut butter, port wine, pop rocks and ginger, and caps off the bars with another layer of chocolate. He lets them set for about 20 minutes, then wraps each bar in a thin foil before placing the colorful wrappers made at Nelson Printing around each bar and securing them with a piece of tape.
His assistant, Faith Andreason, checks the computer for orders before putting them in boxes to be shipped across the nation. Locally, they can be found at Caviar & Bananas, Robot Candy Co., Coastal Cupboard and O’Hara & Flynn in addition to EVO and several other shops.
“I love it,” Andreason, a recent Culinary Institute graduate, said of her job. “I have learned a lot about what you have to do to produce a chocolate bar, sugars and how to run a business.”
Battles attributes the business’ growth to Charleston being a tourist town, where people buy the bars at local shops, take them out of state for themselves or gifts and tell other people about them. His orders come in from New York to California.
“I never thought I would have my own business,” he said. “I will do it for as long as people like what I’m doing. If it starts to get stale and boring, I will try something else.”
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.