Purdys Chocolatier began in Vancouver in 1907, in a modest storefront at 915 Robson Street. Though Purdys operates nearly five dozen stores in three Canadian provinces, they remain a true B.C. business, making all of their chocolates in one Vancouver factory.
Purdys doesn’t offer public tours of their factory, but they were generous enough to let me in for a dream-come-true peek at where their chocolates are made.
From the Robson Street shop, Purdys shifted operations in 1949 to facilities on West 7th in Fairview Slopes, where they remained until 1982. That year, the chocolate maker marked their 75th anniversary with a move into their present-day location in the former Canada Dry plant on Kingsway at Earles. Every single piece of Purdys chocolate is made here, using a mix of technology, old fashioned candy-making, premium ingredients, sustainable cocoa, and always with a human touch.
Many of Purdys’ factory employees have been making confections for the company for a long time, some even for 45 years. From the creaming kitchen, where Alberta butter swirls with sugar in copper kettles over open flames as part of the English Toffee-making process, to the packing lines where every single box of chocolate is hand-filled and carefully weighed, much of the deliciousness is in the details.
After being enrobed in creamy milk or dark chocolate, the distinctly patterned lines are applied by a duo of employees manually passing a ladle of melted chocolate across the pieces moving on the belt in a process called “striping.”
Striping the candies
Over where the hot copper basins of toffee are being turned out onto a long table, the skilled worker in charge of the batch works swiftly to spread and smooth the rapidly-cooling candy, which is called “plowing.”
“Plowing” the toffee
The scent of sugar and butter permeates the air in this part of the factory, while elsewhere in the maze of rooms busy with machinery and staff the smell of chocolate is omnipresent. Purdys has a pipe system in place which sends the chocolate to all the machines on the factory floor, yet it still seems like there’s a pinch of magic involved as the chocolate cascades over batch upon batch of rum and butter centres.
It comes down to incredible skill and dexterity for those tasked with getting all those assorted chocolates inside the boxes and in the right spot, and with hands and machines moving quickly in steady cohesion.
Filled by hand
Though a machine gets the shiny purple wrapping on the boxes, there’s a person at the end of that line picking up each box to ensure the gold Purdys sticker made it on there in the right spot. All that packaging, incidentally, is designed in-house and custom for Purdys’ expansive line of chocolates and candies.
Inside the Factory Store–where customers can visit and shop from displays of chocolates packed into re-purposed old factory equipment–Valentine’s Day is in full force, with red heart-shaped boxes brimming with treats and Philbert the Hedgehog beckons from packed shelves.
Meanwhile, inside the factory, Easter is already hopping, as the regular production schedule makes room for the molded chocolate bunnies that were, and are, a part of many a Vancouver childhood.
Lots and lots of Easter bunnies
Although some of Purdys’ chocolate-making techniques are old fashioned, the business has long looked ahead in terms of eco-conscious practices. In August 2014 Purdys launched their sustainable cocoa initiative. Purdys purchases premium cocoa from farmer partners and co-ops who meet the company’s sustainability pillars, and this enables those farmers receive support for education, medical care, and community infrastructure.
Life before, and after, the chocolate gets in the box is important for Purdys. They’ve got a multitude of recipes posted online so customers can use their Purdys chocolate in a variety of applications, from drinks to desserts, and even in some savoury dishes.
Take a peek at some of the chocolate-making that goes on at Purdys Chocolatier:
Mounds of fresh butter will soon go into copper pots and be turned into English Toffee
Butter and sugar are mixed in copper pots over an open flame
Caramels are dusted with corn starch to keep them from sticking, then moved through the cutter, first turning the slab into long ribbons
Caramel moves down the line after it’s cut
Pieces that didn’t turn out perfectly are pulled off the line, but are used in other products, so nothing goes to waste.
Enrobing the chocolates
Samples are taken from each batch, weighed, measured, and tested for quality control
Sticks are placed in bunnies by hand
Machine-wrapped, but each box is hand-checked
Valentine’s Day treats are displayed in an old copper pot inside the Factory Store, which is open to the public
Old equipment painted purple and used to hold displays
That’s a pretty big heart full of chocolates!
All photos by Lindsay William-Ross/Vancity Buzz