Intrigue Chocolate will be located in the old Healeo juice bar space at 15th Avenue and East Madison Street.
Intrigue Chocolate will be located in the old Healeo juice bar space at 15th Avenue and East Madison Street.

Intrigue Chocolate owners Aaron Barthel and Karl Mueller have locked down a sweet location in Capitol Hill for a new chocolate shop and coffee house.

“The good part is a lot of the infrastructure, which is the most expensive part, is all in,” said Mueller about the former Healeo juice bar location at the corner of 15th Avenue and East Madison Street.

Intrigue started with Barthel, who had been working at bakeries and brewhouses at the time. His mother was upset he wasn’t using his degree in botany, so she sent him a magazine about horticulture, Mueller said. Inside it Barthel found a recipe for truffles, which he tweaked, and then began sharing the chocolate confections with friends who encouraged him to keep it up.

Barthel’s chocolate line started in earnest through Madres Kitchen, until the catering company decided to go in a different direction.

Domestic partners, Mueller joined Barthel on the business side in 2007, a year after Intrigue Chocolate Co. was founded.

They split their retail from the kitchen two years ago, opening up a chocolate shop in Pioneer Square, 157 S. Jackson St.

The couple is putting everything into the business, Mueller said, and expanding with a coffee house and chocolate shop in Capitol Hill  is expected to boost profitability with a big emphasis on coffee and chocolate drinks.

“Capitol Hill has always been the logical next step,” Mueller said, “however, it wasn’t where we were looking.”

While people surveyed had expressed an interest in seeing Intrigue’s second location in the Columbia City/Hillman area, Barthel and Mueller couldn’t find a good space. There was also backlash about a chocolate shop opening in those neighborhoods by people upset about gentrification.

Intrigue has a five-year lease at its Capitol Hill location on the ground floor of the Pearl Apartments, 1530 15th Ave. Mueller said they were looking for a 1,200-square-foot spot, but took the 1,900-square-foot retail space and will use the back kitchen for some of their chocolate making processes.

Barthel and Mueller recently pulled in more than $15,000 on Kickstarter in order to expand beyond Intrigue’s truffles and into tempered chocolate bars, with Pacific Northwest-inspired flavors that include hops, clover, honey; lavender, coffee, long pepper and juniper berry, black lime. Mueller said the campaign brought in $6,000 the first day.

“I did not expect to come out of the gate that strong,” he said.

Those bars will make their debut at the Northwest Chocolate Fest on Nov. 11-12.

Mueller said a sister chocolatier in Mt. Vernon will produce the bars for Intrigue, because they don’t have expertise in tempering.

The back kitchen in Capitol Hill is planned to be used for grinding cacao beans in a temperature-controlled environment. Mueller said Intrigue’s Pioneer Square kitchen is on one-year extensions, and the expectation is the building will eventually be sold for redevelopment.

While Healeo already had a bar built out in the space, Mueller said the whole thing will be removed to create a different flow for Intrigue. The idea is for customers to be able to come in for coffee, but also to have a deeper conversation with staff about what Intrigue has to offer. There will be cacao nibs, chocolate bars, cocoa powders, truffles and more available for purchase, including tastings, but Mueller said the Capitol Hill location will really push coffee and sipping chocolates.

“Most of the people will come here for the coffee,” he said. “The reason to come here every day is for your morning drink.”

Level Square Home is handling the interior remodel, and Intrigue Chocolate is anticipated to open in January, Mueller said.

He said he wants a small space in the back to be used for community meetings and board games, and the back wall of the bar to be used as an art wall, just like at the Pioneer Square shop. There, Mueller prints out photos shared on Instagram and places them on 4-by-4-inch blocks.

“If you see a block you like, the idea is you can take it for free,” he said, adding a $5 donation is suggested, the proceeds going to the Sanctuary Art Center in Seattle.

Mueller said he wants photos for the Capitol Hill shop that capture the neighborhood’s rich history.

Business expansion is a way to survive, Mueller said, and the couple had considered opening another location, but he’s not sure he’d want that.

“I really just want to see this one do well.”

Find out more about Intrigue Chocolate Co. at intriguechocolate.com.