Artisanal chocolate studio envisioned for Victory neighborhood

Dancing Bear Chocolate was started in Jan. 2018 by husbands Joe Skifter and Steven Howard. The Northsiders have sold their artisan chocolate online and through wholesale, as well as via pop-ups, but recently took the leap and signed a purchase agreement for a property on 44th and Thomas, that has a long and interesting history in the neighborhood. Photos courtesy of Dancing Bear Chocolate

Dancing Bear Chocolate was started in Jan. 2018 by husbands Joe Skifter and Steven Howard. The Northsiders have sold their artisan chocolate online and through wholesale, as well as via pop-ups, but recently took the leap and signed a purchase agreement for a property on 44th and Thomas, that has a long and interesting history in the neighborhood. Photos courtesy of Dancing Bear Chocolate

By Cirien Saadeh Staff Reporter

The corner of 44th and Thomas just got a little bit sweeter. Dancing Bear Chocolate, an artisan chocolatier owned by Northside residents, has announced its intention to expand the business by purchasing the building on that corner.

Their March 12 Facebook announcement conveyed elation, and a bit of nervousness: “Not sure how to explain the excitement we are feeling right now, a bit overwhelmed. We just signed a purchase agreement for the new home of Dancing Bear Chocolate. Our Northern Chocolate Studio will be a unique blend of brick-mortar retail, a learning/ gathering space, and the heart of our creativity. We have so many ideas and can’t wait to share them with you!” it read.

The chocolatier is the brainchild of Joe Skifter and his husband Steven Howard. Howard is a longtime pastry chef, who previously opened chocolate shops in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was also one of D'Amico's original chefs and the Executive Pastry Chef at D'Amico Cocina for nine years. Skifter’s background is more administrative; his 9-5 job is with Open Book, a nonprofit literary arts center. They started Dancing Bear Chocolate in Jan. 2018, doing pop-up shops and online sales through Etsy. When they started, they weren’t dreaming of a brick and mortar space.

“We had one full year of operation and really had no intention of buying a piece of property, when we saw that this building became available,” said Skifter. “We live just a few blocks away, and we both realized that it’s too good to be true. We questioned whether we were ready to make this leap, but the stars seemed to be aligned, and we wanted to do it, so we did.”

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The chocolate shop announcement was met with excited fervor by community members, who quickly shared the Facebook post and congratulated the business on their expansion.

“Awesome! How great to have a new business in our community! Welcome!!!” neighborhood resident Kris Brogan commented on the Victory Neighborhood Association’s Facebook announcement.

The new chocolate studio’s name will be Northern Chocolate Studio. It won’t be a traditional retail location. Instead it will be a space for pop-ups, dinner parties, cooking classes, community gatherings, and a kitchen to serve their wholesale and online business.

The space was built in 1929 and has historically been home to a donut shop, corner store, dentist, and even a pregnancy clinic owned by a local church.

“That was my Dad’s dental practice from the late 60’s till the 90’s, Dr. Vern Steffens. So many memories of that building, it hasn’t changed a bit. Treat it well Dancing Bear, I hope it brings you as much success and fulfillment as it brought my Dad,” Greg Steffens commented on the Facebook announcement.

The building will need rehabilitation. “Our first plan is to get in the space; we want it to be a bright, inviting space. We think there used to be windows in the front and we want to bring those back,” said Skifter. “And we see no obstacles unless there is something that happens completely out of the blue. And then our first goal is to get the commercial kitchen space, so we can continue to supply our wholesale and pop-up sale customers,” he said.

The name Dancing Bear Chocolate has its own interesting story. Howard wanted the name and logo to be a polar bear with an incorporated Northern Star, as a nod to their Minnesota roots. As for the “dancing,” according to Skifter, Howard used to dance in the basement of their North Minneapolis home to lose weight.

“The life of a pastry chef. I came home one day and saw him dancing and we decided to name the company Dancing Bear,” said Skifter.

Dancing Bear Chocolate sells a variety of chocolate, include eight flavors of homemade chocolate truffles; peanut butter cups; a “Kodiak” (rice krispy) bar; a fudge brownie with dried cherries in it called a Bear Paw; an extravagant chocolate mousse cake; and molded chocolate appropriate for each holiday.

A grand opening date has not been Artisanal chocolate studio envisioned for Victory neighborhood scheduled yet. According to Skifter, they are not sure whether it will be one big event once the space is done or several smaller events. Follow them on social media for more information.

You can learn more about Dancing Bear Chocolate, and their chocolate, at www.etsy.com/shop/DancingBearChocolate or at www.facebook.com/ dancingbearchocolate.

Cirien Saadeh