There’s a sweet surprise underway in south Oak Bay as lifelong chocolatier Bob Attwell has come out of retirement.
The new shop is called Casey’s Chocolates at the corner of St. Patrick and Central Avenue, in what was recently Casey’s Concession, an ice cream store run as a summer project by a group of university students.
“We’re open but we’re not open,” Attwell said. “Some people are already knocking on the window. I won’t turn down a sale but we won’t have the official opening for a few weeks yet.”
After Casey’s Market shut down in 2017, ending a run of 80 years. The building is also home to Thorn and Thistle flower shop.
Enter Attwell, 75, who has been living retired in Oak Bay. He brings 42 years of experience as a chocolatier. For nearly two decades he ran Robert’s Chocolates and then ran the Chocolate Orchard in Creston, B.C. until he sold it and retired in 2010.
“I was getting bored, sitting around doing nothing and I saw this place come available,” Attwell said. “I saw the ice cream store [was temporary] and I approached the owners and they liked the idea. So I decided to do a chocolate store.”
The owners were also pleased Attwell will continue as Casey’s Chocolates and continue to offer ice cream while adding coffee, grilled sandwiches, a smoothie menu, and his dessert menu of housemade chocolates.
“This is a two-year adventure,” said Attwell. “We’ll see how it goes.”
Attwell’s story as a chocolatier started in the 1970s. He was a sales manager at Gizella’s Bakery in Vancouver when he was listening to the radio one day.
“On the air, the Canadian McDonald’s restaurants were getting a bit of heat for importing all hamburger buns from the U.S.,” he said. “It clicked with me, that as a company, Gizella’s could do it.”
Attwell had to convince the Gizella’s owner and pitch McDonald’s management. Once he established the connection, it quickly became a complicated negotiation that he was no longer part of. Lo and behold, Gizella’s won the contract and set up Golden West Bakery, a new factory, to bake 14.5 million dozen hamburger buns, he said.
“The owner came to me and said, ‘You’ve done an unbelievable thing, what can I do for you,’ and I said, ‘I’d like to go to Switzerland and learn to make chocolate.’”
It was a done deal. Attwell apprenticed for Lindt in Zurich. It took four years, not because it was a four-year apprenticeship, but because he could only spend six months in Switzerland at a time.
In 1976 he was making chocolate in Victoria and remembers being the first to bring the truffle style here. Soon he was able to buy a piece of property on Mayne Island and set up a Robert’s Chocolates factory.
His company had 19 employees and were sending chocolates all over Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.
“We ended up tickling the bear, we were too big [a business] for a Gulf Island, so moved to White Rock.”
Business was good in White Rock, too good, as they needed to expand again. Instead, Attwell bought an orchard farm in Creston, B.C., and converted the farm market at the gate to a bigger building, and called it the Chocolate Orchard.
Casey’s Chocolates will offer an assortment of truffles such as mocha, ganache, and Grand Marnier.
“We’ll have around 18 types,” Attwell said. “All hand done, hand piping, no machines.”
At $6.95, his bear paws might be the next big thing in south Oak Bay. A layered treat with caramel, fudge, cashews, and chocolate weigh in at about a third of a pound.
“It’s a pretty good deal considering the weight,” Attwell said.
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