PICTURED: Beato “Moon Face” sculpture in 72% dark chocolate. Photo submitted
by Emily Dodi
When the Thomas Fire struck in 2017, Lisa Casoni and Heather Stobo, the owners of Ojai’s Porch Gallery, and Emily Burson, founder of School Nutrition Plus, Southern California’s premier school catering company, evacuated to Santa Ynez. There the three found more than sanctuary; they found inspiration.
“The place where we stayed served hot chocolate and chocolates in the afternoon as a treat for the guests. We thought that was so comforting,” Casoni recalled. By the third day in exile, “we started talking about legacy losses in Ojai — what would we miss the most if we came back and the whole town was gone or part of the town was gone. Of course, Beatrice Wood is a huge historic legacy in Ojai.”
They recalled that Wood, who lived to be 105 years old, famously said that she owed her longevity to “chocolate, art books and young men.”
That incredible joy and comfort they found, coupled with the desire to celebrate and create legacy, inspired them to launch Beato Chocolates in the aftermath of the Thomas Fire.
“For us, the whole beauty to this was how we could incorporate this legacy of a woman with a new business that had a component that she was actually interested in, [namely] chocolate.”
In addition that business, whose name comes from the sobriquet Wood was affectionately known by, and which she used to sign much of her pottery, would give part of its proceeds to the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts to help support its programs.
Casoni, Stobo and Burson started with two chocolate sculptures — a moon face and a horse — that are created using Beato’s original pottery molds. Even the packaging is a nod to Beato and helps tell the story of “this very eccentric, interesting woman. The artwork on the box is a very famous drawing that Beato did for a magazine she started with Marcel Duchamp called The Blind Man,” Casoni explained. Next came the company’s tagline, “Anti-Established in Ojai,” a wink to Beato and her fellow anti-establishment artists of the Dada Movement.
In 2020, the company introduced its first chocolate bar, “Happy Valley,” flavored with orange oil and Ojai “Pixie Dust.” Then came “I Shock Myself,” featuring coffee and cacao nibs from Ojai’s own Bonito Coffee Roaster. “Menage a Trois” has toffee and sea salt, and “Pinching Spaniards” has roasted Marcona almonds and smoked paprika. All three bars are 72% dark chocolate. Soon to be available are “The Pussy Between Us,” Beato Chocolate’s only milk chocolate bar, and the pretzel-filled “Bored at a Cocktail Party.” The names of the bars are inspired by a title of a Beato artwork or piece of writing, or something else that was meaningful to her.
The Beato Chocolate bar packaging features different Beato artwork and a bit of history about the artist. Even the way the bars break apart is a salute to the Mama of Dada.
As Casoni explained, “It’s not like these perfect squares that most chocolate bars have and that’s very Dada. We don’t want it to be linear … We want you to break it off unevenly because we want you to have that spirit of the Dada. We want you to think about that being anti-establishment. It’s just like having that whole experience of it.”
What started quite literally with a spark continues to grow organically. For Casoni and her partners, it’s all about celebrating Beato’s legacy while building a legacy of their own that feels meaningful. It also happens to be delicious.