Category: Eat + Drink Articles
Name: Fran Bigelow
Title: Founder and owner of Fran’s Chocolates
On having Barack Obama as a fan: “It’s really fun…really a surprise…[it] energizes everyone else who comes in.”
Why her custom boxes have hand-tied satin ribbons: “They should look as good as they taste.”
Favorite chocolate accompaniment: Port.
On whether she ever gets sick of chocolate: “No, it’s just gotten better and better.”
“Flavor over sweetness.” “Quality over quantity.” Fran Bigelow has clear priorities when it comes to chocolate. The Seattle native and Fran’s Chocolates founder is revered for her mastery of dark, velvety, not-too-sweet chocolates, inspired by those she tasted while traveling in Paris as a young adult (“like chocolate I just hadn’t experienced”). From the artisan sea salts she secures from half a world away (gray salt from France and smoked salt from Wales) for sprinkling over chocolate-covered, slow-cooked caramels, to her exquisite attention to the details of presentation (her handmade Japanese washi boxes come in intricate colors and patterns), Bigelow’s culinary genius has made her world famous. And now she has a new biggest fan: President Barack Obama. During the ’08 campaign, word spread of the president’s affection for her smoked salt caramels, and of his wife Michelle’s love of the gray salt caramels. Salted caramels have since emerged as Fran’s best sellers—though fiercely rivaled by her signature handmade truffles (including the single-malt whiskey and hazelnut crunch varieties).
Part warm hostess with a polite smile, part serious businesswoman, Bigelow joyfully recalls childhood jaunts downtown with her grandmother to Frederick & Nelson’s “huge candy kitchen” for special chocolate treats, such as personalized Easter eggs. Later, she attended the California Culinary Institute before opening her first tiny shop in Seattle’s Madison Park neighborhood in 1982. Her newest store, opened in late 2008, is light-filled, immaculate and as elegant as the new Four Seasons hotel in which it resides. Today, Bigelow’s daughter Andrina and son Dylan help run the family business (she as CEO; he as production manager)—a scenario that a certain little girl hoping for a Frederick & Nelson’s Easter egg never would have imagined.