Brooklyn-based chocolate purveyors the Mast Brothers have undoubtedly made it big. Besides becoming figureheads of sorts for the Brooklyn craft movement, they've got a James Beard-nominated cookbook, big investors, a fancy new factory in London, a partnership with Shake Shack, and they've even won the admiration of hallowed chefs like Thomas Keller.
But not everyone loves the bearded chocolatiers. Earlier this year Slate published a story, aptly titled "Chocolate Experts Hate Mast Brothers," pointing out that while the chocolate has become wildly popular, most specialty chocolate shops in fact refuse to carry the brand; chocolate experts consider Mast Brothers' product sub-par, complaining that it's chalky, stale-tasting, or just plain bad.
And one chocolate connoisseur is taking his criticism to the next level. The blogger behind a site called DallasFood.org — known only to readers as Scott — has just published an obsessive four-part series with the goal of exposing the Mast Brothers as frauds. Scott alleges that while the company claims it has been "bean-to-bar" (i.e., making its chocolate completely from scratch) from the beginning, in the early years they were in fact melting down pre-made chocolate, molding it into bars and re-packaging it. He argues that given the company's very limited equipment setup in the early years, it would have been literally impossible for it to produce the large quantities of chocolate it was selling.
"Rick and Michael Mast were the Milli Vanilli of chocolate," Scott concludes in part four. "They costumed themselves with quaint clothing and showy beards ... Though an appealing façade, the early Mast Brothers was a Potemkin chocolate factory, churning out remolded, repackaged industrial couverture ... The Masts did not become pariahs in the fine chocolate world because of their beards, publicity, or product mediocrity. It was because of their lies."
Regardless of your feelings about Mast Brothers' chocolate, the painstaking examination of the burgeoning company makes for an engrossing read — so long as you have a few hours to kill. It seems word of the exposé is getting around, too: The Mast Brothers Facebook page has been flooded with people posting links to DallasFood.org and posing questions like, "Did you guys really not used to make all your chocolate bean to bar?"
In response, the brothers Mast have posted an open letter to their website insisting that they have always made bean-to-bar chocolate, and any statements to the contrary are "incorrect and misinformed." The full text of said letter is below:
Dear Chocolate Lovers,
Mast Brothers accepts the role and responsibilities that a leader and innovator of any industry must accept. We understand that this position comes with a microscope overhead and a target on our back.
We think that it is important that there are watchdogs in any industry. Ultimately, we admire, and are even flattered by the in-depth research and attention to detail that is done about our company in pursuit of understanding. This represents an important part of society that holds us all accountable.
We have been open and transparent about our experimentation, techniques and recipes since day one. Our conversations with our colleagues, past and present, have been very kind, supportive and passionate. I have hope that this same civilized and collegial attitude can return, even amongst competitors.
Any insinuation that Mast Brothers was not, is not or will not be a bean to bar chocolate maker is incorrect and misinformed. We have been making chocolate from bean to bar since the beginning and will continue to do so. Through the years, we have continuously improved our methods, recipes and tastes. We love making chocolate, and we have the audacity to think that we are pretty good at it too.
There is absolutely no need for sensationalized negativity or to spend energy diminishing our contribution to the chocolate community. There is a worldwide desire for chocolate and plenty of room for many makers to satisfy its appetite. This is a movement and it is only the beginning.
We are steadfast in our guiding principles of simplicity, honesty, connection, innovation, love and respect. We are proud of our sourcing, our process, our employees and our incredible partnerships. We will continue to innovate, challenging ourselves and the industry to be better.
We wish everyone a happy, healthy and peaceful holiday season.
All our best,
Rick & Michael Mast
It's not the first time DallasFood.org has published a ridiculously extensive takedown of a chocolate company: Back in 2006 the blog ran an epic and damning 10-part series on Texas-based high-end chocolate company Noka, which was buying and repackaging chocolate and selling it for an insane $854 per pound at luxury retailers like Neiman-Marcus. Noka went out of business in 2011.
Reached for comment by Eater, Mast Brothers' PR rep pointed to the open letter posted on the company's website and declined to add any additional comment.