Some of the happiest Jerseyans ditched their 9-to-5 jobs and launched food-centric businesses. Steve Mazure went from masterminding malls to founding Mazur Café & Chocolate Lab in Hackettstown. Steve and Hank Reed, Mazur’s general manager, chef and chocolate-maker, told us how they went loco for cocoa.
NJM: What is Mazur Café & Chocolate Lab all about?
Steve: It’s about chocolate and it’s about community. Chocolate is something that brings people together. We’ve made this a gathering place in Hackettstown where you can enjoy sipping chocolate, coffee, pastries, chocolate treats and our Mazur single-origin chocolate bars.
Hank: We’re about having fun with chocolate.
Steve, what’s your connection to Hackettstown?
Steve: I was a little kid here before my family moved to Voorhees. I’m a Jersey boy and I went to Rutgers. I majored in economics and got into commercial real estate, specializing in retail venues. Eventually my career took me to North Carolina.
When and why did you return to Jersey?
Steve: I passed the 30-year mark in real estate and I was done. I needed to do something completely different. I moved back to Lebanon Township here in Hunterdon County with my daughter Isabelle. She’s now a student at Raritan Valley Community College and a very artistic barista at the café. But at the time I didn’t have a plan B.
Chocolate-making doesn’t seem an obvious choice.
Steve: That’s for sure. But I’m a foodie and I’m also fascinated by how things are made. So I was toying with something to do with food, but had no clue what it would be. One day I was driving on Route 78, relaxed and letting my mind roam. And I had this divine inspiration: chocolate! How do these giant beans from the tropics become the treat we all love?
Why were you so confident that the time was right for artisanal chocolate?
Steve: First of all, people love chocolate. Secondly, it fits with the growing consumer desire, especially in New Jersey, to know where our food and drink comes from. Origin has always been a key aspect of wine and whiskey, which are categorized by region. And for decades now, coffee has been marketed based on its region, and called single origin. It was time for a single-origin chocolate shop.
How did you learn to make chocolate?
Steve: I did what wine and coffee experts do. I immersed myself in tasting—as in hundreds of different chocolates from growing regions all over the world. Then I hired Hank as chocolate-maker. I also had to turn a onetime shoe store into our café and kitchen. We opened in March 2023.
Hank: There’s a lot to learn, because there’s no one-size-fits-all in high-end chocolate-making. Every burlap bag of our single-origin cacao beans is different, because cacao beans are grown in nature.
Do your customers buy according to region?
Steve: Sure. Think of your feelings about wine and about coffee, and how you settled on your favorites. Chocolate is now a matter of taste too. And just like grapes and coffee beans, cacao beans—the source of chocolate—are significantly affected by where they grow. The climate, the soil, sunlight, humidity, everything.
Hank: We learned how to optimize the unique components of every bag of beans: the acidity, the fruity or nutty notes, and so on.
Steve: Fair Trade practices have an effect too. When farmers are paid decently, they take pride in their product and the way they grow it. So it tastes better.
What are the origins of Mazur chocolates?
Steve: We import raw cacao beans from growing regions, which are all near the equator. Our beans are grown in the Caribbean and Africa. Currently we source from eight countries.
Hank: We make both 55% “dark milk” chocolate and 72% dark chocolate from most of our cacao beans. (The lower the percentage, the sweeter the chocolate.)
Hank, what’s on the café menu?
Hank: It’s pretty varied. Everything is light and delicious and made in-house with New Jersey-produced bread, chicken, eggs, produce. Our pastries and cookies are so fresh they’re still oven-warm. Nothing we make is “just a chocolate bar,” “just a latte” or “just avocado toast.” It’s simply the best that that simple, humble thing can be.
Steve: May I add, Hank’s chicken salad sandwich, with “cacao nibs” of roasted beans, is the best in New Jersey.
I’ve heard about the events at Mazur Café & Chocolate Lab.
Steve: They’re getting quite a reputation. We built our space to accommodate participatory community events and artistic happenings. And of course, lessons in chocolate-making; we’re a chocolate lab, after all. These days we’re really excited about our farm-to-table special dinners that can accommodate 30 adventurous eaters.
Pop-up dinners that celebrate seasonal local food are a New Jersey phenomenon!
Hank: Definitely. We Jersey chefs are in awe of the fantastic ingredients produced on local farms…
Steve: …as well as the foods made by craft artisans like us.
Hank: We push the envelope.
Steve: For our five-course dinners, every one of Hank’s dishes incorporates chocolate in some way.
Hank: I’ve made deep, dark mole sauces, short ribs with cranberry and cocoa, crudo with cacao nibs, and Thai red curry with chocolate shavings. Oh, the possibilities.
Hank, you seem to welcome a cooking challenge.
Hank: Always have! As a kid in Woodbridge, the kitchen was my playground. I was making dinner for my family by the time I was 10. I’ve cooked everything from elegant Italian to barbecue, and now I can call myself a chocolate chef. I’ve come to love cooking with chocolate—the technique, the equipment, the complex flavors. For me, chocolate has proved incredibly versatile and flavorful. There’s so much going on.
What’s coming up for Mazur Café & Chocolate Lab?
Steve: We’re about to launch a wholesale operation. Our aim is to produce 600 pounds of chocolate weekly, up from 400 now. We’re starting up online ordering too.
Hank: Halloween is coming up. And trick-or-treaters are not going to have all the fun.
Mazur Café & Chocolate Lab: 106 East Moore Street, Hackettstown; 908-269-8064 @mazurchocolates
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