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Preston Stewart

Preston just opened Markham & Fitz, a bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturer and dessert bar in Bentonville, Arkansas. Biochemist turned chocolate wizard, Preston digs into the details of the operation in our Q&A. Just a heads-up, you'll be craving chocolate two paragraphs in.

Photography by Kyle McCarthy @thekylemccarthy

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Preston Stewart, a lot of folks call me Stu.  I'm a husband to Abby of almost 8 years.  Father of 2 boys, Eli (almost 5) and Aaron (almost 2).  I'm a small business owner, a bean-to-bar chocolate artisan, chocolatier, and budding barista/bartender. My educational background is in biochemistry and after working in a lab at a biotech company for a few years, I realized that working in a lab wasn't really suited to my personality.

Okay, so tell us about that transition to chocolate.

I've always enjoyed sweets, candy, and especially chocolate.  The first time I tried a craft chocolate bar, my eyes were opened to a whole new world of flavor.  A friend of mine had learned about cacao and had interest in chocolate making after a visit to Uganda.  I tasted some of the chocolate he and a friend made and while it still needed some work, the flavor was so much different than anything I had eaten before.  My interest was sparked and I dove in and learned as much as a I could about the artisan chocolate making process, flavor development, adding other things to compliment the chocolate, and various chocolate techniques.

Where does the name of your business come from?

Markham & Fitz is a mashup of a couple family names in our company. Markham is the middle name of my oldest son, Eli, and Fitz is the name of my business partner's dog.  A couple of 4 year-olds in our families.

Tell us about Markham & Fitz.

One thing that we're doing differently than most other companies in the chocolate world is that we're crossing over two different genres. Traditionally there are chocolate makers and chocolatiers, we're doing both. On top of using our bean-to-bar chocolate for our confections (truffles, bonbons, dipped caramels) and pastries (cookies, pain au chocolat, tarts, cakes) we are also a dessert bar.  We've crafted a cocktail menu using our own cacao-infused alcohols (chocolate bourbon, creme de cacao, chocolate Campari, etc). We also have a curated beer, wine, bubbly, and whiskey selection to pair with our chocolates...think chocolate paired flights.

You’re making us hungry! So, where does your cacao come from?

Currently we source cacao from Bolivia, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Nicaragua.  We've got plans to add a couple more origins as we grow.  The beauty of the craft chocolate movement is that there are so many amazing sources of cacao and the flavor profiles differ so much!

What are you looking for in a vendor? Ethical, fair trade, sustainable?

We take pride in using high-quality, ethically sourced ingredients. During our brand update, we switched to organic sugar and cocoa powder and mostly organic beans. Also having a transparent supply chain is important as well. We want to continue to work with farmers and make an impact.

Tell us more about the bean-to-bar chocolate process.

Bean-to-bar chocolate making differs from most of the chocolate that you'd typically see on major grocery store shelves.  We focus on high quality cacao (not based on the commodity supply chain), ethical and sustainable sourcing, and minimal ingredients to highlight the distinct flavor of the cacao.  Most mass market chocolate uses lower quality cacao, bought by the 100s of tons with a desire to create a homogeneous flavor profile.  Also, some producers use "cocoa mass" which is highly processed cacao blended with cocoa powder, sugar, oil, stabilizers to extend shelf-life, and lecithin, an emulsifier meant to allow the chocolate to "flow" better in industrial equipment.  The chocolate industry is similar to that of coffee and beer; there’s a big difference between craft and macro.

You’re also using parts of the cacao that aren’t normally used, right?

We are using cocoa nibs to steep into liquors to create infusions for our cocktails.  Another thing we make is "cocoa tea".  In the chocolate making process, after we roast the cocoa beans to develop flavor, we need to remove their outer shell to get to the "nib", the inner portion that becomes chocolate.  In the roasting process some of the oils, flavor, and aroma gets transferred to the outer shell.  We collect these shells and brew them as a loose leaf tea.  It's an interesting and unique product that has a nice chocolatey flavor, but is light and delicate like a tea.  It's great hot or chilled. I like it sweetened and chilled, over ice.

Okay, so we want to visit. Where do we find you?

Last year, just before Christmas, we moved our business from Fayetteville, Arkansas to Bentonville, Arkansas. We are one of the first tenants of a new development called the 8th Street Market.  It's designed to be a foodie-hub showcasing craft food and drink where people can enjoy eats, drinks, and sweets and actually see how it's made and have a chance to interact with the makers.  Our neighbors include a state-of-the-art culinary school Brightwater, a craft brewery, Bike Rack Brewing, and an authentic Mexican restaurant, Yeyo's Mexican Grill.

We are still producing bean-to-bar chocolate, but we've taken it a step further to make it a full-on dessert bar. We have confections, pastries, healthy superfood options, cocktails, hot chocolates, coffee/espresso drinks. It's all located in the same space as our production so people can see the chocolate-making process happen as well as watch us torch the sugar on a creme brûlée.

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What’s next for Markham & Fitz?

As we get settled in here in our new space, we want to expand our programming.  From chocolate tours, to educational chocolate tastings, to wine/beer/spirits pairing events, guest chef/mixologist nights.  We also want to get a lot more involved with our new community, Northwest Arkansas is an amazing, thriving community to be a part of. We also want to be advocates of craft chocolate and support the amazing farmers and other components of the supply chain that allow us to do what we do.

What’d you think of the Wool&Prince gear?

The Wool&Prince shirts are amazing! They fit wonderfully and are refined and casual so that I could wear them under my apron at the chocolate shop or with my wife on a nice date. I was surprised at their softness and perfect fit. Great pieces to complement and upgrade my wardrobe!

Preston is 5’8", 170lbs, wears a size large polo, and size medium regular button-down. Grab some chocolate here:


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