Store Review: Royce (Japanese Chocolatier)
One thing I have become slightly disappointed lately is the state of the various chocolate producers and their product lineups. While there are a few companies, such as Green & Blacks, which make a variety of creative, tasty chocolate products, there are countless other companies that put up a big marketing show for run-of-the-mill chocolate without any special characteristics (flavor, ingredients, etc.) . I don’t know how some of these companies can stay in business with so many competitors putting out nearly identical products. My guess is that most of it comes down to marketing and connections, and as long as a company can hook a niche market they can survive for some time.
Near the end of a recent business trip, I happened to be browsing through New York’s Bryant Park, searching for food and sweets in the many stores in the park and in the nearby area. I walked by one store and as I peered in through its window some very unique chocolate caught my eye. Not just the stylistic packaging, thin square boxes with monotone coloring, but the chocolates themselves were something I had never seen before. There was a dark-chocolate looking one covered with powdered cocoa, and a green one covered with something that looked like green tea powder. Unfortunately the store was closed at the time (it was sometime after 8pm on a weekday), but I decided I would research this place and come back later. The name “Royce” was easy to remember if I associated it with “Rolls Royce”.
When I got back to my hotel and did a bit of research I discovered Royce was a high quality Japanese chocolate maker, established in Sapporo in 1983. Their Japanese name is pronounced something like “royz”. That explained the green tea chocolate – the Japanese really love their green tea. The company’s website said there was only stores available in the US, and both were in New York. Lucky me! I decided to head there the next day, which was my last opportunity to shop before returning home.
Getting there was a bit tricky since I got off at work at 6pm and they closed at 7. I ended up taking the Metro and having to run through the city until I arrived around 6:30pm with just enough time to browse.
The store is set inside a building with others, such that a double entrance is required to get inside. The actual square footage of the place was very small, but with a sparse design they somehow managed to make it feel much bigger. There was a large shelf against one wall with various products on display, and a long square table in the middle. Everything was very modern, very bright, and very clean. Essentially, very Japanese. If you check out this link, you can see their other store to get a feel for the design used. (Interesting linguistic note: one word for ‘beautiful’ in Japanese is ‘kirei’ which also means ‘clean’)
Upon closer inspection, the middle table contained both products I had seen in the window, “Nama Chocolate Bitter” and “Nama Chocolate Maccha”. Both were only $18 which I considered cheap for these rare and unique products. I felt even better about this price after I heard from one of the saleswomen that they do not sell their products online. (Note: I did find at least two of their products sold on Amazon, but they were by third parties and had very high markups of over 200%. Here is one.)
After taking in the beauty of the store for some time, I become concerned when I realized the middle table was actually refrigerated, and when I asked one of the saleswomen she said the products will last 7 hours outside a refrigerator, and 11 hours inside a special bag which they provide free of charge. Unfortunately my hotel didn’t have a refrigerator, so these wouldn’t do for a souvenir to bring home to the family. It would be a waste of money to buy and eat only a few myself before throwing it away, so I decided on skipping these altogether. I was given a small sample of the bitter one which had an amazing flavor, something like light fudge with cocoa powder. A second sample which I couldn’t refuse was one of their marshmallow products. It was surprisingly tough but had a taste like nothing I’ve had before.
In retrospect I feel a bit stupid, because although the products displayed in the window were not in a refrigerator, the product name “nama” means “raw” in Japanese, so I could have of guessed refrigeration was required.
I ended up purchasing two other products which didn’t require refrigeration. I haven’t tried these yet but planning on tasting and reviewing soon.
A very unique chocolatier only available in New York – highly recommended for anyone who considers themselves a consumer of high quality, high class chocolates.
Note: They are working on opening a third store, and one of the other stores was closed for construction, so be sure to check their website before heading over.