Richard Tango-Lowy doesn’t have a problem with people destroying his art.
“What we get every day is: ‘It’s too beautiful to eat.’ But to us, it’s like, ‘Why would we do this if you’re not going to eat it?’ They are all meant to be eaten. They’ll go bad if you don’t,” he says.
Tango-Lowy is standing behind the counter of his Dancing Lion Chocolate shop in Manchester, the day’s limited-edition creations arrayed like jewels, portraits and sculptures in a wood-framed glass display case.
“We made chocolate bonsai trees a couple of years ago. The trunks were candied tangerine dipped in chocolate, the tops were nougat and the bottoms were ganache in the pots,” says Tango-Lowy. “One customer sent me a picture of one with a bite taken out of the top. Those are my favorite (reactions).”
On a recent work day, Tango-Lowy and chocolate apprentice and area art student Rachel Comstock are fine-tuning the prototype for the 2021 Valentine’s special edition box set.
This year’s edible masterpiece centers on a large heart with a layer of jelly made from blood oranges topped with a layer of saffron and rare white chocolate and finished with a house-made dark chocolate. Two spiced marshmallow pieces surround the heart like puzzle pieces.
Only 12 sets will be made. Each edible masterpiece costs $150.
This is no ordinary chocolate shop, something its fan base prizes.
After waiting on the sidewalk in the cold for a few minutes while a photographer inside snaps pictures of Tango-Lowy, a couple of regulars — Lee Hansche and Torie Kidd, both of Suncook — come inside to order steaming white chocolate drinks.
“Some of your best advertising just walked through the door at the right time,” Hansche says with a laugh.
Though café seating inside has been halted for now, visitors can still stop in for look and a taste. Hansche and Kidd discovered the shop three years ago and embrace Tango-Lowy’s philosophy that customers don’t need a sophisticated palette to appreciate the art of chocolate. Just bring a sense of adventure and an open mind.
“Whenever I come here, I’m always like, ‘And this is here, right on Elm Street in Manchester? I don’t know how we got so lucky. He’s bringing real culture to Manchester,” Hansche said.
At one time Hansche disparaged milk chocolate and Kidd thought very little of white chocolate. But Tango-Lowy changed all those preconceived notions. For the past few years, Kidd has given Hansche a membership to the Cacao Connoisseur’s Club — a specialty monthly chocolate bar program — for his birthday.
“We never know what we’re going to get,” Hansche said. “The last one was a tea-infused chocolate. It was like a cup of tea with milk — only chocolate!”
More specifically, “It’s a ceremony-grade matcha infused with Japanese white chocolate with candied lemon that we make from lemons my father-in-law grows in California,” Tango-Lowy says, adding there also are ginger elements running through it.
‘Funky, fun city’
The chocolatier graduated with honors from Ecole Chocolat in Vancouver, and has earned Master Chocolatier designations from Ecole Du Grand Chocolat Valrhona in Tain L’Hermitage, France, and Ecole Chocolat’s Master Chocolatier course in Tuscany.
But it’s a “funky, fun” city in Southern New Hampshire where he chose to set up shop. He first discovered the Queen City when he left the physics field and took a tech job with Hewlett-Packard over the border in Chelmsford, Mass.
He established Dancing Lion Chocolate in 2007 — he’s been at the Elm Street location since 2011 — and he and his wife live nearby.
“You have this weird mix of people here,” he says, a smile crinkling his eyes. “You’ve got the Millyard, which gives it a kind of integrity. You’ve got blue- collar and white-collar and small businesses and all kinds of students and people. It gives it a really nice vibe. This is really one of the most underestimated small cities.”
Here, Tango-Lowy is alchemist and architect, and his passion for chocolate — more than 95 different types — is infectious. Walking through the kitchen of the shop, he points out a shelf full of bottles of homemade flavors, tugs open drawers filled with all sorts of cacao beans from around the world — Puerto Rico, Mexico, India, Peru — and ingredients sourced from small, local farms and businesses. But it’s hard to concentrate on anything but the intoxicating scent wafting from the back of the room, from beneath a grinder. It’s an imported Tanzanian chocolate with notes of cherry and strawberry.
“We’re sort of like the Imagination Room from ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,’” Tango-Lowy says. “The magic happens here.”
Over the years, he’s relied on foot traffic. But the COVID-19 pandemic hit and distancing protocols brought a shift to online sales. People were shopping around for something different to give loved ones during the Christmas season, and the shop’s chocolate masterpieces, often packed up in paper boxes made in Napal, fit the bill.
“I think people soothed themselves with chocolate last year,” he says. “We ran out of (chocolate) boxes the week before Christmas.”
Shortly thereafter, the calls about Valentine’s Day started. One customer in Kansas wanted to send a particular message, so he commissioned a chocolate bar for his girlfriend in Tokyo. Etched and handpainted flowers cover the chocolate, along with the message “I love you, Maria.”
Check out Valentine’s specials, bonbon boxes (which range from $25 to $72) and daily treats at dancinglionchocolate.com. Patrons with masks can stop in for take-out orders between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. Saturdays.