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Northern Ontario’s only bean-to-bar chocolate shop is a hidden gem on Manitoulin Island

A sign inside Finnia chocolate shop on Manitoulin Island Photo by Vanessa Chiasson

In the small village of Gore Bay on Manitoulin Island, visitors will find lovely views, a pretty lighthouse, and one heck of an unusual chocolate shop.

Finnia Chocolate and Cacao is northern Ontario’s only bean-to-bar chocolate shop, and they specialize in vegan chocolate (they also offer non-vegan treats). That might sound like a rather narrow niche in a small community, but the company is growing by leaps and bounds and now their products are making their way across the province and the country. One taste will tell you why they’re so successful. They’re absolutely luxurious, phenomenally smooth, and beautifully balanced. 

I discovered them this summer by happy accident. I was visiting their next door neighbour, Split Rail Brewing, and I noticed a sign that said “Chocolate.” Who can resist such an invitation? I put down my beer and strolled around the corner to investigate. I was hooked from the minute I entered the small shop with the intoxicating smell. I had to learn more, and so I chatted with owner Lisabeth Flanagan to get the inside scoop on what it takes to make such incredible chocolate.

How did you come to open a business on Manitoulin Island?

I started Finnia Chocolate when I was on maternity leave with my first child, just over 14 years ago under the name ‘Ultimately Chocolate.’ We had just moved to Manitoulin Island from Ottawa for my husband’s new job and to be closer to our families in Sudbury and on the Island.”

How did you develop an interest in working with chocolate?

“A few years before, we had completed our Masters in business in France. I was amazed by all of the chocolate in France, particularly the dark chocolate in stores and that was given away with every coffee at the cafés. There wasn’t much choice in Canada for dark chocolate at that time. Eventually, my love of chocolate made me start a blog to track all of the chocolates I tried when traveling, and soon, it morphed into a love of making chocolate right from the cocoa bean.”

How did you start making bean-to-bar chocolate?

“I first ground cocoa beans in my coffee grinder with sugar and made a gritty chocolate. Eventually, I moved to a table-top refiner to make chocolate that was super smooth in a few days at home. We built a commercial kitchen in the house, which lasted quite a few years, then moved the business into town about five years ago, and finally into our new factory three years ago.”

Is working with chocolate the dream job that many of us think it is?

“Our chocolate is truly made with love—natural ingredients, nothing artificial, and as many organic ingredients as we can bring in, so nothing like the supermarket chocolates. Our cocoa beans come from smaller farms, where drying and fermentation is carefully done in order to ensure the best and most flavourful cocoa beans. The farmers are paid more for our cocoa beans than the commodity beans that are used in commercial chocolate.”

What is the work itself like?

“Chocolate made from the cocoa bean is a very labour-intensive process. A lot of customers don’t understand why the price of bean-to-bar chocolate is so high. The reality is that it takes one week to make any batch of chocolate. Even with larger equipment that we now have, there is a day of sorting and roasting the cocoa beans; a day of pre-grinding and filling machines; and then a few days where the chocolate needs to run in an aerated machine. So the price point is higher, and the profit margins even with the high prices are very, very small.”

What are some of the challenges of working in a cottage-country location?

“There are a lot of challenges to making bean-to-bar chocolate, particularly in a remote place far from city centres. Everything costs more to get ingredients up to Northern Ontario. In the city, a chocolate maker could pop by and pick up their shipping boxes or ingredients, but for us it’s always a $200 or more shipment to bring in any goods. In order to be successful, chocolate must be sold in much larger quantities, so we are focussing on growth in sales beyond Manitoulin Island, so that we can have a sustainable business that employs people in jobs that they love here on Manitoulin.”

Last but not least…what does “Finnia” mean?

“I changed the name to Finnia Chocolate & Cacao in 2018 when I partnered with Trish Moran, my business partner. We now have an all-female team here in Gore Bay, with five of us working in the factory in the off-season and more of us during the summer season. The business is named after my children, Finn and Fia.”

What should Cottage Life readers try? Here are Lisabeth’s top recommendations.

  • The fan favourite: “Our Buttermilk Bar is always well-loved by customers and has won awards.”
  • For maple syrup lovers: “We have a Sweet and Salty Canadian with sweetened with 40 per cent maple sugar for maple lovers and those who do not want cane sugar in their chocolate.”
  • For die-hard chocolate lovers: “Our Mexico Milk Chocolate is an extra creamy, dark-milk chocolate. So many people who love milk chocolate are often very surprised when they try it. When they see the category “dark milk,” they are unsure. However, we make this milk chocolate with low sugar (29 per cent, unlike commercial milk chocolate that has more than 50 per cent sugar), but we make it so over-the-top creamy so customers never know they are eating a low-sugar chocolate. The look on our customers’ faces when they try for the first time is very fun to witness. It is so creamy and so indulgent—it’s hard not to love.”
  • Her personal pick: “I love all of my bars equally for different reasons. I can’t choose just one! Although I have to admit, I’m pretty proud of our Extreme Dark Peanut Butter Bar right now—people are loving it! It’s sweetened with about 10 per cent maple sugar. It is a meal in a bar, filled with organic peanut butter, a slight maple crunch, and rich, dark maple-sweetened chocolate with a touch of sea salt.”

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