Compartes Chocolate Has Some Serious Old Hollywood Heritage
Starting a business is easier said than done—from startup costs to finding suppliers and endless unexpected challenges. This week we’re chatting with Jonathan Grahm of Compartes to learn more about the nitty gritty of how he took the the brand into the chocolate shop we know and love today.
Did you have investors? If so, how did you work to line them up?
Jonathan Grahm: No, Compartes has no investors
What was your biggest expense in founding Compartes? What ended up being way more affordable than you’d imagined?
Jonathan Grahm: The biggest expense has definitely been packaging—I have 100% custom boxes made. With the truffle boxes, we started out with these beautiful black boxes and I created a clear insert that is custom made for each box, so each truffle is positioned to look like an individual piece of art. It was so important that this striking black box contrast with the vibrant chocolate. Fast forward to bars, I hand design each of the boxes. I take elements of the bar, and create something that epitomizes each flavor in a funky, fun, chic way.
Your new brick and mortar shop has been described as the “Great Gatsby meets Willy Wonka.” What design aesthetics influence your brand, and how did the design sensibilities of your product line translate into the design of the physical space of your shop?
Jonathan Grahm: Compartes is heavily influenced by LA heritage and Art Deco plays a huge role in the Compartes brand. Being that we’ve been in business since 1950, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra were all customers, so we wanted to evoke this rich heritage that is quintessentially LA. You’ll see that represented in my packaging. I use a lot of Italian design elements as a nod back to Mrs. Compartes. I think it’s important to have this root of history and tradition in all that I create. This is not a new company so it is important to show our heritage in a new modern, and fun way. It’s glamorous, chic and unique. All of those things are represented in our brick and mortar design. Kelly Wearstler designed our newest location in Westfield Century CIty—everything is custom made.
You’re an LA native. Tell us how the city has influenced the design and flavors of your chocolate line? We’re guessing LA is the only city where you can find Kale flavored chocolate? ;)
Jonathan Grahm: Being from LA of course, I draw inspiration from my home city. I’m inspired from everything that’s around me. Most days I am here at the chocolate factory for hours on end, but as I drive home under a blanket of palm trees in Beverly Hills I am inspired. I don’t get to do much outside of work, but being around in this melting pot of a city, all of those things do play out in the flavors I create and the designs of my packaging.
With the Kale Bar I began seeing kale on every single menu in Los Angeles so I thought why not make a chocolate kale bar. But the great thing about LA is that when people come in for the Kale bar more often than not, they will leave with one of our other bars like the Donut & Coffee bar which features donut chunks from some of the best donut shops in LA. That’s what’s funny about LA: everyone wants the best of both worlds.
All of my bars feature some of my favorite things about LA (covered in chocolate)
Tell us about some of the flavors developed through partnerships with arts and culture venues like the Museum of Ice Cream, or your line designed by Kelly Wearstler? How have those limited edition flavors/partnerships influenced your brand?
Jonathan Grahm: We’ve got tons and tons of flavor—over 100, and over 300 truffle flavors.
I am Constantly trying to create new items, and I try to push myself and think about the next big thing.
My style evolves and changes along with the Compartes brand. I took over when I was 19 and reinvented the brand. I am now 33 and it’s a completely different brand, and I always want to evolve.
We have done collabs with Kelly, J Crew, Beverly Hills Hotel...all the collabs are with people I am excited by, and it really is an honor and exciting to do these collabs. We get asked about partnerships all the time, but it has to make sense with the brand and what we’re doing. I respect and admire each of my collaborators for their creativity and that’s what really influences our brand’s creativity
What are your favorite or most unique flavors that a newcomer to your line should try?
Jonathan Grahm: I cannot give just one of course, so I will give a white, dark, and milk option (or two):
- Dark: Fruit Cocktail, which is brand new. The design on the packaging is from a painting that I hand painted and is hanging in my home. I slightly adjusted the colors to mimic the fruits I used so it’s very special to me. Oh, and the S’mores bar! That one is special because it features images of my dogs on the back, Samson, Rocco, and Sebastian!
- White: Cookies & Cream, which features chunks of oreos, puree of oreos. It might be the most amazing and delicious bar I’ve ever had. Also our Holiday flavor Cinnamon Toast Crunch—people go CRAZY for it
- Milk: I love our Potato Chip Crisp Bar—It’s a great mix of salty and sweet
What resources were the most helpful in getting the business started—websites, magazines, software, etc.?
Jonathan Grahm: I really did not know where to start in terms of building the brand so I have done most of it myself. I do all our photography, I run our Instagram account and website—in that way I’ve learned how to do all these things. It’s evolved through necessity, I learn more each day. I just go with my gut and do what I know. I don’t have a playbook or rules to follow and I think that’s what led to me creating such a unique brand. I’ve built the brand through my heart which really sets it apart.
How do you feel that the packaging/branding for Compartes is successful in communicating the values and mission of your brand?
Jonathan Grahm: I think Compartes packaging is sophisticated yet funky and cool and chic, all at the same time. These are some of the words that have been used to describe Compartes in general and I think it translates to our packaging. When you look at the packaging you can tell there’s so much thought put into each detail; each and every chocolate box, from its gold wrapping to the triangles that make up the chocolate bars themselves. The designs are so high quality that when you open the bar you know you will be eating the highest quality bar there is. The bars always say LA on them, and I think that's really important—we’re sold nationwide, when you see LA you know it’s made here.
I do all the designs myself and I constantly challenge myself to create something better.
Margaret is a freelance graphic designer and writer based in Los Angeles. She received her MFA in Graphic Design from the California Institute of the Arts. She writes for AIGA’s blog Eye on Design, and is currently designing futuristic things for USC’s World Building Media Lab.