Two Hauser Chocolatiers: Father-and-Son Team Craft Chocolate for Every Taste
It’s a little hard to find the Hauser Chocolatier building until you spot the WWonka license plate on Ruedi Sr.’s Jeep parked out front. The Hausers, Ruedi Sr. and Rudi Jr., have been making their Swiss-style artisanal chocolate in a quiet industrial park in Westerly, Rhode Island, since 1990.
They were drawn here by a Department of Economic Development ad touting Rhode Island’s virtues, especially its location on Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Sound. At the time, Ruedi Sr. had just taken up sailing and they realized that a planned expansion in Pennsylvania “would be moving in the wrong direction.”
Now their sophisticated machines produce silky, luscious dark, light and novelty truffles for private-label clients, as well as corporate gifts, wedding and party favors. Hotels, gift shops, boutiques and upscale outlets come to Hauser’s for a product that “the French invented, but the Swiss perfected,” says Ruedi Sr. He himself developed a machine that makes chocolate lace—chocolate-covered caramel in lacy patterns. It’s the only one in the United States. Switzerland is as famous for chocolate as it is for fine watches, and both are luxury products. Celebrated names like Suchard, Lindt, Nestle and Tobler were 19th century pioneers in the development of milk chocolate, praline and fondant, which is a creamy, malleable chocolate paste. According to the Hausers, the French are known for dark chocolate, and Belgian chocolates for their soft textures. Swiss chocolate owes its fame to milk from cows that graze in the high Alps.
Despite health-conscious concerns about calories and cholesterol, chocolate is the stuff of obsession for many. But father and son agree that “it’s not a cheap business to go into.” It takes a major capital investment to set up a manufactory like Hauser’s. The machines that produce those delectable confections can cost from $250,000 to $500,000 each. Some are imported from Europe, where the specialty machines were developed. Hauser’s has chocolate melters; cooling tunnels; a horizontal spinning machine that produces thin, hollow chocolate shells; the Knobel One-Shot, a machine that makes and fills truffles simultaneously. They’re all cared for and coddled by company president Rudi Jr., who does the complex computer programing that enables the company to give its customers more than 60 flavor choices.
“I don’t know anything about [computer programming] and I don’t want to know about it,” says the father, who claims to be semiretired. (Both father and son look much younger than their years, so maybe chocolate is a health food.) What Ruedi Sr. does know is how to make seductive chocolate confections. His fresh cream truffles range from the always-popular raspberry, hazelnut and champagne, to offbeat—pomegranate, black vinegar, key lime (that one took a lot of trial and error), to flavors that are an acquired taste. Like burning passion truffles—a chili and jalapeño pepper ganache in dark chocolate imprinted with tiny chili peppers. Any 9-year-old would love a box of Hauser’s peanut butter and jelly truffles. Ruedi Sr. whipped up that flavor combination after repeated requests from an employee.
Ruedi Sr. learned his chocolate and baking skills as a youngster in his native Switzerland. He says he didn’t like school but “I always liked cooking and baking. I never wanted to do anything else.” So he left home at the age of 14 to begin a three-year apprenticeship with a chocolate maker in the French-speaking part of the country. Armed with an official government document certifying that he had successfully completed his training, Ruedi went to work in the kitchens of the Holland America Steamship Line. Swiss chocolate and pastry took him to jobs in New Orleans, Florida, New Jersey and New York City, where he met his wife, Lucille.
Eventually he and Lucille opened a Swiss-style bakery in Bethel, Connecticut. That was in the 1970s, before America became a nation of foodies. Customers would come in asking for donuts and hard rolls.
“I learned very fast you’ve got to give people what they want.” The business prospered as Ruedi began a catering service, cooking classes and making candies. In 1985 he built a small chocolate factory in Bethel. When it came time to expand five years later, costs were too high in western Connecticut and Rudi Jr. looked to Rhode Island.
Between 15 and 20 happy employees work in the 18,000 square foot building. They operate the sophisticated machines but the finish work—hand rolling, decorating—is done by hand. Rudi Jr. estimates that it takes three people about four hours to finish 72,000 truffles.
These bite-sized confections are a luxury item but Hauser’s works with clients throughout the United States. One marketing entrepreneur in Vermont gives the father-and-son team flavor and packaging ideas that he sells under the brand name of Dan’s Chocolates. He samples but never sees the finished product. Hauser’s creates, packages and distributes his chocolate visions.
A few years ago the father and son master chocolatiers created a fund-raiser for Westerly’s Relay for Life. Their Rhode Island Hope Box features 24 assorted truffles, and a portion of the proceeds is donated to the cancer support organization. The box costs $25.75 and Hauser’s donates $500 to $600 a year from its sales.
The company reveals the “history and mystery” of chocolate on factory tours where tourists, Scout troops and chocolate addicts can watch their favorite sweet being made. But you don’t have to take the tour to visit the company’s retail store located at the back of the building. Its glass cases are filled with 20 current and seasonal samples of Ruedi’s original truffle flavors, and store clerks Tracy and Sean can describe the taste of anything to which you point. You probably won’t be able to eat just one.
59 Tom Harvey Rd., Westerly, RI; 888.599.8231; HauserChocolates.com
M—F; 10 am to 5 pm, plus tours and additional seasonal hours