Road tripping through Deadwood, South Dakota I expected to get a glimpse of wildlife, maybe Native American landmarks, possibly a cowboy or two, but I did not expect to find the chocolatier responsible for providing truffles for the gift bags for the 2013 Grammy awards program, the Country Music Awards and the Latin Grammy’s. And, I certainly didn't expect to find all this deliciousness in what was formerly a Sinclair gas station...but I did.
Mary “Chip” Tautkus has been addicted to chocolate since she was a child. Her mother used to hide the chocolate from her to keep her from eating too much. Growing up in California, Chip's mom would take her and her sister, “Dale” - yes, Chip & Dale - to the chocolate shop and let them choose what they wanted. Chip would choose her chocolate because it looked "pretty" and would always end up with a taste that didn't suit her little girl taste buds. "When I grow up and have my own chocolate shop, I'm going to always have samples so people can see what they like before they buy it," Chip proclaimed at a very early age.
Chip has delivered on that proclamation with plenty of samples available in her South Dakota shop. And those samples have brought her much deserved good fortune. I sat down with Chip inside the transformed Sinclair station to get the story behind the location, the name and the chocolates.
"I studied nursing in college," says Chip. "But, after my first year of nursing I was a little disillusioned and wanted to try something different." Chip started making chocolates and they quickly grew in popularity.
Not wanting to waste all those years of study, Chip returned to nursing after a year and the chocolate making stopped. Of course she couldn't just do nursing, she also did construction. "I get a sense of satisfaction from construction projects," explains Chris. "Plus I love to smell the wood!"
Chip's construction projects proved to be a little bit dangerous when she fell and cut her wrist on a shard from a mirror. "My nursing and construction work came to an end while I was recovering," says Chip. Someone suggested she resurrect her chocolate business - an idea wholeheartedly supported by her husband who was in favor of something a little safer.
The old Sinclair station was available for rent- a place where Chip could make chocolates and her husband could work on his motorcycle - even if it was gas station ugly.
"When we rented the station the carpets were an ugly orange with stains and the restrooms were unspeakably bad," recalls Chip.
For the past eight years that transformed Sinclair station has been the home of Chubby Chipmunk Chocolates - a name suggested by Chip's mom. "When my sister and I were kids, we collected chipmunks and even adopted our Chip and Dale nicknames," says Chip. "Of course we had to use chipmunk in the name and Chubby Chipmunk was perfect."
When you drive through Deadwood, South Dakota you will find the old Sinclair station with the iconic Chubby Chipmunk outside. Inside you will find Chip’s specialties - hand-dipped chocolates using homemade chocolate and homemade caramel. "This isn't mass produced chocolate," says Chip. "It is good, rich, deep unbelievable chocolate."
Chip's success has been a bit serendipitous. When she was opened just three months a weary frustrated traveler stopped in to have a few samples. That traveler happened to be an editor working on a story for Every Day with Rachel Ray. He found a story in this funky little shop and the wheels began to turn.
Chip entered her chocolates in a bridal favor competition and won second place honors. It just so happened the organizer of that competition was the same company responsible for the gift bags for the Grammy’s - an invitation only honor. Chip received the coveted invitation and Chubby Chipmunk Chocolates were in the Grammy gift bags for the 2013 show!
Personally, I think karma has also played a role in Chip’s success. When Chip sent the chocolates for the Grammy bags, she sent along an extra box for the workers who would be filling the bags. She also sent a box for the workers at the docks in Nashville that would be unloading the chocolates for the Country Music Awards gift bags.
“It seemed unfair to have to load boxes of chocolate or fill gifts bags with truffles and not get to sample any, so I sent along extras for the workers,” says Chip.
The success of Chubby Chipmunk Chocolates continues to grow with new avenues on the horizon. Chip is currently traveling in Peru to the source of a rare and exotic cacao long thought to be extinct until it was discovered growing in a remote region of the Peruvian Andes. Chip was one of only a few chocolatiers invited to explore this unique cacao which is the chocolate used in her Fortunato #4 bars. I will be catching up with Chip when she returns from Peru so stay tuned for more about this unique chocolate in an upcoming post.
If your travel plans lead you through Deadwood, South Dakota be sure to look for the deliciously transformed Sinclair station with the Chubby Chipmunk on display - it is truly worth the trip. Of course, if you aren’t traveling through South Dakota and have yet to be nominated for a Grammy, you can still enjoy these incredible chocolates by ordering online at www.chubbychipmunk.net.