Power duo Christina Vandiver and John Eric Battles, known as Johnny or Eric to his friends, are co-owners of a little South Carolina chocolate shop making big news in the candy industry.
Known for quirky flavors and eye-catching packaging, Sweeteeth Chocolate has been featured on the glossy pages of Southern Living, Martha Stewart Living, and Details magazines and appeared on the October 24 episode of FoodCrafters on the Cooking Channel.
“I knew I was on the verge of something when I was invited to be on the Cooking Channel. That was crazy! Understand, I’m small town-raised. When you’re on the TV, you’re a star. Period,” says Battles.
He never dreamed of being a chocolatier. “I wanted to be either Crocodile Dundee or the Beast Master when I was little. I wanted to have a job in the woods with animals,” says Battles. Now he is forever curious about flavor combinations and finds chocolate inspiration where ever he goes. “My creative process is constantly in absorb mode. I think about it when I’m out and running into things and people. Friends always have great ideas and then I eat a lot of fun foods and just try to imagine what they would taste like as a chocolate.”
In the beginning, he says there were ten failures for every successful flavor. He still continues to experiment non-stop. “The new ginger snap bar was a huge success in my mind, both in the mouth and in the eyes. It exceeded my expectations because they were sold as soon as they popped out,” he says.
The Alabama native bounced around before getting married and settling in Charleston. “All this began as pure exploration. My mom was a cook all my life so cooking was just kind of something that happened in my day to day. I took a class on chocolate and started to wonder how far I could take it. Once I began to really play with chocolate as a medium for flavors and various impressions, I started to become obsessed. How far could chocolate get from sweet and yet stay a candy? How can I make dessert course more like the first course? Savory, yet still candy.”
As sous chef at EVO Pizzeria in Charleston he found a platform for candy play. “It turned out to be quite a win-win. They would purchase all the ingredients I’d need for whatever I wanted to try, and they got to sell whatever came out the other end that tasted great.” When his chocolates began showing up on the dessert menu, word spread fast and shops around Charleston were asking to carry his creative concoctions. “After a couple years at that pace, it was going well enough for me to step away and fully commit to the candy game.”
In 2008 Battles started Sweet Teeth Confections and by 2010 decided to talk to long-time friend Vandiver about a partnership. The Upcountry-Lowcountry team joined forces and Sweeteeth Chocolate took off. Though they are growing fast, the company is still currently devoted to the small-batch production. Battles has a part-time employee and a few hard-working friends and family volunteers that help him make anywhere from 500 to 700 bars a week. They hand-wrap every chocolate bar in their shop in Charleston. Vandiver handles Sweeteeth press, marketing and the business side of things from their office in Greenville.
Sweeteeth’s chocolate bars including Call of the Wild (port wine caramel filled), PB+C (peanut butter and chipotle filled), A’chocolypse (chocolate with popping ginger), O-Snap! (white chocolate and ginger snaps), Sea is for Caramel (salted caramel filled), Cinnapsis (cinnamon, apple, pecan), and Nut Tellin (chocolate hazelnut cream filled) are available locally at O-Cha Tea Bar, Swamp Rabbit Grocery and Café, and Whole Foods. Battles also makes an ever-changing selection of handcrafted bon bons from seasonal ingredients with current offerings including Pineapple-braised Jalepeno or Vanilla Noir.
With a new ecommerce site and all of the recent coverage, Vandiver says the company is growing fast. Sweeteeth is now in 30 shops, mostly across South Carolina, with some customers in Minnesota, New York, California, Oregon and Georgia. “We just got Whole Foods in Mt. Pleasant in September and Whole Foods in Greenville just picked us up,” she says. Other Whole Foods Markets across the Southeast are following suit. Sweeteeth is moving to a bigger shop to allow for a larger scale production and is planning on expanding the product lines. “The new shop is a real doozy. It’s going to be a decked out production lab where the chocolate will flow like no other! We are really ramping up our wholesale customers,” he says.
He and Vandiver also see a retail location in the near future. “The press has been great and the attention is always good but you can’t get too comfortable,” says Battles. “You have to stay on top of your game and keep the ball rolling.” Though Sweeteeth chocolate hits a higher price point than the average chocolate bar, people are still willing to seek it out. Vandiver says even though these times are hard, people still want to treat themselves to something sweet.
To satiate that chocolate craving or to order an early valentine, go to sweeteethchocolate.com.