Lots of places offer amazing chocolates, but the chocolatier for the historic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, about two hours from Cheyenne offers something he’s not seen too many other gourmet chocolate candy stores offer — armed services insignias and American flags.
There’s a reason these items are always on the menu at Lift Chocolates. Owner Brandon Busch spent 10 years in the U.S. Marine Corps on active duty as a CH-53 heavy lift helicopter pilot. He was stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan and is still a reservist.
Busch entered the service not long after college, unsure about what he wanted to do with his life.
“The two wars were raging in Afghanistan and Iraq, and I was kind of watching the news and thinking to myself, ‘Well, I’m kind of sitting here in my family room watching other guys who are about my age,’” he told Cowboy State Daily. “I’m a capable guy, maybe I should participate in this and help out.”
He was commissioned in 2004 and went to flight school from 2005-2006, after which he was assigned to a fleet squadron that deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and, once, Hawaii.
“I’ve always loved the Marine Corps,” he said. “I love the institution, and I love the military as a whole, not just the Marine Corps. I like the values. And I think they’re especially appropriate right now, and they need to be reinforced.”
Chocolates For A Cause
Busch uses his chocolate skills to help military charities like the Tia and Chris Kyle Foundation. Chris is the man the movie “American Sniper” is based on.
“I think she understands firsthand the challenges of, you know, deployments and things like that, and she lost her husband ultimately,” Busch said. “So, we’re proud to work with them and send chocolates for their couples.”
Busch also works with the U.S. Marine Corps to improve a memorial that’s now sitting between several highways and has begun to look out of place and unimpressive.
“We’re doing chocolates for the woman who runs that foundation,” Busch said. “And the woman who runs the foundation has just connected us with some Medal of Honor recipients too, so we’re likely to try and help them out as well.”
Chocolate Was Challenging, But Then It Was Love
Busch has always had an interest in cooking things.
Whenever he was home for the holidays, the Food Network was always on, and when he had free time during his years in the service he was, more often than not, reading a book related to cooking.
After he got off of active duty, he went to pastry school to learn more.
“I feel like you can teach yourself to cook, but you can’t necessarily teach yourself to do pastry, chocolate, sugar, laminated doughs — the entire range of temperatures is different,” he said. “And the way you have to handle them.”
While he picked up pastries, cakes and croissants easily enough, one skill eluded him — chocolate.
“It was really hard, for whatever reason,” Busch recalls. “So, I just wanted to be able to do it and do it well.”
But, as he wrestled with finding the right “temper” for his chocolate-making hobby, Busch began to discover that chocolate has layers of complexity beyond just its flavors. First, there’s its history.
“I think the first thing that happened with cacao beans was probably fermentation for an alcoholic drink,” Busch said. “And then there’s the history with the Olmecs, the Aztecs and the Mayans. After that, the Spanish came over and took it to Europe.”
In Europe, a nobleman got the bright idea to simply add sugar to the drink, which was absolutely the instant success one would think.
“I think the history is just really cool, and that’s one of the things we’re trying to do with the Stanley Hotel is just teach that history a little bit.”
Getting The Lift
The other thing, though that really snared Busch is the reaction others have when they bite into a perfect chocolate.
“People have a visible reaction when they eat it,” he said. “It evokes a reaction kind of like no other food, especially when they taste something that’s really well done, whether it’s a truffle or just a chocolate that’s great on its own.”
In fact, Busch says the name of his store is actually a play on words. It refers back to his military history as a “lift” pilot for heavy equipment, but it’s also about the “lift” that people get when they consume a piece of exquisitely made chocolate.
To achieve the range of confections he offers, Busch buys as many as 25 different chocolates that have been sourced from countries around the world, including Columbia, Singapore and Switzerland.
“You kind of have to balance the quality with price,” Busch said. “But we’ll get samples and taste them and work with them to see how they’re going to do in production. Then, between price, flavor and ease of production, we’ll make a decision.
“It’s kind of controlled by the price point, though. The reality is you could pay $20 for a chocolate bar and it wouldn’t be overpriced, but for most consumers if they saw something like that, they’d be like, ‘How does this cost so much?’”
Busch has recently bought equipment that will allow him to scale up the chocolates he makes, and he wants to find more outlets nationwide, similar to the partnership he has with the Stanley Hotel.
His chocolates are already for sale at a couple of places in Jackson, Wyoming: Jackson’s Whole Foods and, during the holidays, Picnic.
Renee Jean can be reached at: Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com