Old & New Come Together in Nashville’s Only Bean-to-Bar Chocolate
By: Theresa Christine
In an age where consumers constantly want newer, better and updated versions of everything they own, Olive & Sinclair is a relaxing step back in time. Sure, this bean-to-bar chocolate brand has only been around since 2007—but one glance might convince you this is the same chocolate your grandparents picked up at the general store when they were growing up.
“I wanted Olive & Sinclair to feel approachable,” explained Founder Scott Witherow, “like it had been around for 100 years, even though it hadn’t. I wanted it to look classic.”
The trend of retro-inspired packaging continues to grow, but for Olive & Sinclair, it isn’t purely aesthetic. They put innovative new twists on beloved sweets (like their Muzzle Loaders which put a spin on the bourbon ball), but their brand values and practices embrace the traditional. Even their brand name comes from two family ancestors—Sinclair references the grandfather on his mother’s side, and Olive is a reference to his wife’s great aunt.
“I’m a borderline hoarder of old stuff,” laughed Scott. “I just love old buildings, houses, cars, and antiques. If you come to the factory, you’ll see what I’m talking about.”
Olive & Sinclair has made its home in what was initially a grocery store from the 1920s that was later turned into a bakery. Once the key machines, roaster, and tempering units were laid out, he went on a hunt for the perfect antiques to fill the space. Visitors who stop by for a tour will find a vintage neon diner sign reading “EAT," antique lighting from an old army barracks, and support beams made from 200-year-old pine.
The process itself also has some nostalgic aspects to it. Most notably, Olive & Sinclair uses melangeurs (stone mills) from the early 1900s, and the cacao beans are ground to create their line of treats. It’s a method also used for stone ground grits—a perfect fit since they’re based in Nashville, Tennessee.
From there, the blur between old and new starts to happen. “Using pure cane brown sugar was my initial Southern knee-jerk reaction,” Scott mentioned. “I’ve been in kitchens my whole life and when I tested it out on folks most preferred it to white sugar.”
He’s also experimented with other items not typically used in chocolate. Molasses makes for a nice, slow sweetener for certain products in their line, they’ve used bourbon barrels to create a bourbon brittle, and their white chocolate is made with buttermilk. Scott added he turns to local producers and uses nothing but fair trade and organic ingredients. “Most of what we do is inherently Southern.”
To package this quintessentially Southern line of sweets, Scott turned to Sideshow Sign Co. Riley Carroll, Graphic Designer at Sideshow, worked alongside Owner & Creative Director Luke Stockdale and Designer Madeline Westfall.
“We wanted to find a middle ground with ‘modern classic,’” explained Riley. Being a sign company, the logo was also a high priority for the agency. “We wanted something that would be future-proof, something Olive & Sinclair could use thirty years down the road,” said Riley.
“Luke drew inspiration from older packaging where things look really segmented and geometric. Then we cleaned up and refined the styles, and juxtaposed it with some fun colors.”
“You look around at a lot of chocolate bars, and they don’t look like chocolate,” Scott said. “They look like wallpaper with a stamp placed in the middle. With this packaging, I wanted to get back to where chocolate was the true focus.”
To achieve this, Sideshow focused a lot on selecting the right colors. “Luke went through tons of revisions with a lot of different colors,” mentioned Riley. “We really wanted to nail colors which felt like chocolate made by a candy company and not vice versa. Some colors made it look too sweet or like it might not even be chocolate, so we tried to keep it classic.”
Also, being a sign company, the logo was a high priority for the agency. “We wanted something that would be future-proof, something Olive & Sinclair could use thirty years down the road,” said Riley. They decided to keep the cacao crest which was on the original packaging they did years ago but gave it an update to make it more versatile.
“We wanted to make a mark so Scott could do any kind of sign with the logo,” Riley added. “You can make it neon, a marquee sign, you can put light bulbs in the letters. You’re not backed into a corner.”
When it comes to new old-fashioned, Olive & Sinclair does it from the inside out. “There’s a sense of romanticism about doing things the old-fashioned way,” Scott added, and this nostalgia for simpler times which we see on the packaging comes from the heart of the brand itself.
“We’re not setting out to be huge makers. There are newer ways to make chocolate,” explained Scott. “It would be easier to use a bowl mill, and we could make more product. But where’s the fun in that—where’s the love in that?”
Thank you to the Nashville CVC (1-800-657-6910) for introducing us to Scott at Olive & Sinclair.
Theresa entered the world of design through The Dieline. With a background in writing and journalism, she has a passion for discovery and cultivating human connections. Her work for The Dieline is a constant journey to deeply understand all facets of the design process and to investigate what makes designers tick. Theresa's writing has taken her snorkeling in between the tectonic plates in Iceland, horseback riding through a rural Brazilian town, and riding an octopus art car at Burning Man with Susan Sarandon as part of a funeral procession for Timothy Leary (long story). When not writing, she is planning her next trip or taking too many pictures of her cat.