Twenty Degrees Chocolates brings bonbons, caramels and a touch of whimsy to its new South End shop.
by Michelle Boudin | photos by Justin Driscoll
Charlotte chocolatier Casey Hickey says she found her true calling thanks to a bible — a cake bible. “It was the book I used to start exploring baking more seriously,” Hickey says, referring to the 1988 classic cookbook by Rose Levy Beranbaum. “And then my best friend got married, and I did her wedding cake and it kind of just took off from there.”
At the time, the Greensboro native was working in fundraising for a medical group in San Francisco, and baking was just a fun hobby. The owner of the new Twenty Degrees Chocolates shop in South End never imagined the hobby would lead to not one but two retail shops in Charlotte.
“The cakes were my wedding gifts to several girlfriends, and then guests started hiring me to do it,” says the Myers Park mother of two. “I started to reconsider what I was doing with my life. I read cookbooks like novels, and although I liked my fundraising job it began to not feel like a calling … pastry was calling me more and more.”
It called her all the way to Paris. In 2003, she cashed in part of her IRA to help pay for seven months of intensive pastry training at Le Cordon Bleu. One of her instructors happened to be one of the world’s experts in chocolate, and that started what she admits has become an obsession with both the flavor and aesthetics of the sweet treat.
“I fell in love with it. I had not thought of chocolate as anything other than an ingredient before, so to discover it as a medium was eye-opening. The complexity and versatility of all the flavor profiles and what you can do with it structurally it just hit me, like wow. Chocolate is a mix of science and luck. It’s temperamental — which is challenging but so much fun when you nail it.”
Hickey and her husband, Mark Meissner, opened Petit Philippe, a wine and chocolate tasting shop in Myers Park, in 2010, the year they moved east from California. In December, Hickey opened Twenty Degrees Chocolates, an upscale and adorable retail chocolate shop in The Design Center at South End. Named for the latitude where the cocoa tree grows, the bold and whimsical shop is bathed in red and crystals — it’s modeled after the Wes Anderson movie The Grand Budapest Hotel.
“It’s a Parisian-inspired jewel box of a boutique that is all about chocolates and confections,” Hickey explains. “It should feel special when you’re in here. We recognize it’s a bit of an indulgence pricewise and want to make sure you get what you’re paying for, both in the shop and in the chocolates. It’s important to us to use top ingredients and well-trained chocolatiers.”
Twenty Degrees features more than 35 flavors of bonbons and caramels, but it’s perhaps best known for its fleur de sel caramels. Fans were so obsessed with the ooey gooey deliciousness, Hickey decided to bottle the popular flavor and sell the sauce in a jar.
While they take chocolate-making seriously, she says they have a lot of fun with naming the sweet treats. “We get inspiration from movies and music all the time.” There’s a Seinfeld reference in a chocolate named “Serenity Now,” and a nod to The Big Lebowski with the one called “The Dude.”
Hickey says chocolate is having a moment right now, and she’s loving every second of it. “We just have a ball. It’s a great medium to work in, and it’s great tasting when it’s finished. It’s just so much fun.” SP