NAME: Robert Ludlow, 28
POSITION: Chocolatier/owner, Fleurir Chocolates (202-465-4368)
WHAT HE DOES: Ludlow can make the sun rise, sprinkle it with dew, cover it with choc’late and a miracle or two. He can because he’s a candy man, well, more specifically, a chocolate man.
Along with his wife, Ashley Hubbard, 27, and a handful of smiling employees, Ludlow — the self-styled “mad genius” behind Fleurir Chocolates in Georgetown (3235 P St. NW) and Old Town (724 Jefferson St., Alexandria) — churns out artisan chocolates daily.
Individually designed fine chocolates are the heart — er, creamy center — of Fleurir’s business. Ludlow and gang start by making 14-by-14-inch trays of ganache, the gooey center that gives each square its unique flavor. “My favorite is Lavender Shiraz,” Ludlow says. “It’s [local] lavender steeped with cream, and it’s balanced with a South Australian Shiraz.”
After the ganache is cut into 1-inch squares, the naked morsels head to an “enrober” machine to ride through a shower of chocolate that hardens into an outer shell. The finishing touch is a graphic design in cocoa butter on the top of each square.
HOW HE GOT THE JOB: While a culinary student at Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney in 2006, Ludlow landed his first candy-making job at a local shop. Back in the States in 2007, Ludlow went full-on choc by joining the staff of Gearhart’s Fine Chocolates in Charlottesville, Va. “They taught me that you can really have fun and not have a very strict environment, but you can still produce amazing things,” he says.
He decided he wanted to produce his own amazing things and in 2009 persuaded his parents to let him build a commercial kitchen in their basement. “When I started out, I had like 190 square feet, and by the time they finally kicked me out, I had taken over a little over a thousand,” he says.
Ludlow and Hubbard first set up shop at the Old Town Alexandria Farmers Market in 2009 and two years later opened a brick-and-mortar store in Georgetown. Today, they make all of their products in the 8-month-old Alexandria shop, which includes a crib for their 3-month-old daughter, Linden, to hang out while mom and dad work.
WHO WOULD WANT THIS JOB: A love of chocolate is not enough. You also need the patience of an artist. “Chocolate’s really fickle. It’s not easy to work with,” Ludlow says.
On the plus side, you get to be as creative as you want with it, he says.
And, as a shop-owner, you get to meet lots of people, which he enjoys. “We’ve had a number of customers come in and bring us baby presents,” he says. “It’s been phenomenally nice.”
HOW YOU CAN GET THIS JOB: While you don’t need a culinary degree, Ludlow says it helps. “Half of chocolate making is knowing what to do when things go wrong,” he says.
To open your own chocolate business, you need substantial start-up dollars for equipment. An enrober can run around $35,000. “A lot of the money [you make in] the first few years goes directly back into the company,” Ludlow says.