Brooklyn chocolate company Mast Brothers is engulfed in a media firestorm. Following a recent exposé by a blogger intent on exposing the bearded chocolate makers as frauds, the brothers Mast have now been grilled by The New York Times — and have admitted to precisely some of the acts that they previously denied.
DallasFood.org recently published an exhaustive four-part series alleging that while the Mast Brothers claim they have made their chocolate "bean-to-bar" — i.e., completely from scratch — from the very beginning, in the early years they were in fact utilizing industrial-made chocolate such as Valrhona. In response, the company posted an open letter to its website last week vehemently denying all of DallasFood.org's accusations and stating, "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."
But now the company seems to be doing some backtracking. This morning's New York Times story relays new findings from an interview with Rick Mast: "... on the claim that the Masts were 'remelters' at the start, Mr. Mast confirmed the brothers did use industrial chocolate, what is known as couverture, in some of their early creations, before settling on the bean-to-bar process for which they are now known."
An anonymous source reached out to Eater to confirm their company had once sold Valrhona chocolate bars and cocoa to the brothers. The source says the brothers would call "in a panic," saying they "needed some [chocolate]" and that they couldn't keep up with demand. Slate also quotes the owner of a specialty food retailer called L’Epicerie, Philippe-Louis Houzé, as saying "he sold the Mast Brothers 'very good chocolate made in France' years ago" and continues to sell them "some goods" today.
Now, in a new open letter posted to mastbrothers.com (the previous letter has been removed), Rick Mast makes a long-winded explanation and defense of his company's actions — the gist of which is basically, 'We thought that since we were making some of our chocolate bean-to-bar, we could call ourselves bean-to-bar chocolate makers.'
I wanted to personally make a follow-up response to the misleading, unsubstantiated and in many cases unsourced articles being circulated by the media about our business and be perfectly clear about a few key points:
Mast Brothers is a 100% bean to bar chocolate maker. Every chocolate bar made by our company that you have lovingly purchased since we opened our first factory, including those purchased for the coming holidays, was made "bean to bar". Any claim or insinuation otherwise is simply false.
Mast Brothers has always been making chocolate from "bean to bar." From the beginning (2007), my brother and I have produced a bean to bar line of chocolate with an obsessive attention to detail, meticulous craftsmanship, groundbreaking innovation and inspirational simplicity. Despite the best efforts of various competitors and "critics" to disparage us or pull us down, we are proud of our work and proud of the journey we took to get where we are today: We employ over 50 beautifully talented, hardworking and inspiring chocolate makers. We partner with family-owned specialty shops and renowned culinary institutions alike, across the globe. We deliver a superior bean to bar product to our customers.
Mast Brothers has been open and transparent about our experimentation, techniques and recipes since day one. To set the record straight, before we opened our first chocolate factory, my brother and I experimented and honed our craft constantly for nearly a year, which is typical for any entrepreneur, craftsman, and innovator. At that time, in addition to making chocolate from bean to bar, we also tested with couverture Valrhona. And despite wild speculations about our production levels or sales, we made no more than 200 or so bars a week, did not make a profit and generated a rather modest revenue, which we obtained primarily from setting up a folding table at a weekend market, the occasional wedding or special event. Additionally, we did not sell our chocolate bars for $10 but $5-$7 at the time. We have always been open and transparent about our chocolate, and have eagerly and honestly discussed our methods with inquiring customers, chefs, fellow chocolate makers and journalists. And while we never claimed to make all our chocolate exclusively from bean to bar in those early days, we did describe ourselves as a bean-to-bar chocolate maker. Since we were in fact making chocolate from bean to bar, we honestly thought we could say as much. We sincerely apologize if you or any of our other loyal customers feel they were misled about the chocolate we made when our company was just getting off the ground.
That all said, having to write this letter saddens me more than anything. We have spent precious time away from our family on the week of Christmas to manage a senseless, mean-spirited "takedown" by determined individuals with an agenda to harm our reputation solely for the purpose of their commercial or professional gain. I would hope that the press covering these unfounded speculative allegations would examine the motives of those in the business of spreading this misinformation. It is very disappointing personally and professionally. Our wonderful team and our beloved partners have to go home for the holidays and try to explain to their families and friends that yes, indeed, Mast Brothers is actually making their own chocolate. This is not the chocolate industry that we wish to be a part of. To that end, we will continue, as we have always done, to not participate in chocolate industry conferences, conventions or competitions until the culture changes.
More importantly, however, we will work even harder to challenge, improve, and innovate. We will continue to focus on growing our business in an ethical, honest and transparent way. We will continue to buy hundreds of tons of cacao from the world’s great farms. And we will continue to deliver a superior bean to bar product to our customers for all to enjoy.
We wish you all a happy and peaceful holiday season.
CEO / Co-Founder
For a company that claims it's done nothing wrong, the Mast Brothers sound awfully defensive. The "Press" section of the company's website now even includes a handy FAQ for people seeking info about the scandal, where it cagily answers questions like "Were you open and transparent about your experimental first year?"
And despite Mast Brothers' claims about being committed to transparency, Slate points out the company seems to be moving toward less transparency in its operations rather than more: "In their new 12-bar product line, they’ve removed all information about cacao country of origin or source from their labels. They’ve also closed their main factory, on Brooklyn’s Washington Avenue, to public and professional tours."
Whether the Mast Brothers will suffer any real fallout from their chocolate scandal will remain to be seen. At any rate, it seems they'll have to be content being the favorite boutique chocolate of people who are more concerned with pretty paper wrapping than what's inside.