Starr Sink Ratto co-founded Videri Chocolate Factory with her husband, Sam Ratto, and their business investor, Chris Heavener. They opened their doors on December 15, 2011, and are quickly approaching their 5th birthday. This modern day Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory is perfectly nestled in downtown Raleigh’s Historic Depot. They have everything from delicious bonbons, hot chocolate mix and chocolate bars – and the options go on and on. The inspired flavors and percentages of chocolate range, too, so they are able to accommodate a vast variety of palate preferences.
Despite their impressive array of confections, there is another thing of note that should be shouted from the roof tops: Videri Chocolate Factory is completely nut free! Gone are the days of having to settle for drug-store chocolates that are waxy and gross just because you have a nut allergy. Starr says, “We didn’t have the initial intention to be nut free, but when we purchased all the new equipment, we stepped back to think. This was the perfect moment to start fresh and not include nuts in our products. Maybe 3% of our business is from customers or families with nut allergies. However, the emotional reaction and appreciation we get from this crowd makes it so fulfilling to us. If something this small can make someone’s day, we’ve made the right decision.”
Starr also tells me there are always 2 dairy free bonbons available and the spinning hot chocolate now has two separate containers; one that is milk chocolate and one that is vegan. “These are little things we do to be able to make our chocolates accessible to a wide variety of consumers. No one should be denied the right to delicious bean-to-bar chocolates or products.”
Starr is from Winston Salem and spent time at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, before heading out west to live in California for 10 years. Starr came back to North Carolina in 2003 and lived in Raleigh for 4 months, but soon moved back to Long Beach. She met Sam when she moved back to California the second time. The two enjoyed their time together, but the quick paced, cold environment left them longing to establish a home base where they could feel a sense of community. They both decided to start a new journey together in North Carolina, moving for good in 2009.
Sam and Starr didn’t have thoughts of Videri Chocolate Factory when they first moved back to Raleigh. Sam initially went to study at NC State and Starr took up a position at a local chocolate shop. Sam came in to help Starr at work, as the shop was low on staff. Seeing the process of chocolate making “turned something on in his brain” to where Sam decided this is what they needed to do. Sam’s eyes opened to the world of bean-to-bar chocolate making with creating new flavor profiles and the passion of selecting and roasting the beans to do this. The two switched gears and started upon the path to create Videri Chocolate Factory.
Starr says, “I’m not a natural entrepreneur; I’m the people person. Sam is behind the scenes brainstorming and concocting these new ideas including developing a new style of bean grinder. Together, I think, we’re an unstoppable team because we balance each other out since we have separate roles that combine well together. We’re also fortunate to have Chris as our investor and financial guy; but most importantly, our friend who has been with us since the beginning.”
If you can’t tell, Starr is as sweet as Videri’s Chocolates and so humble with what success they’ve achieved so far. “We’ve been blessed that we’ve been able to help build this small community of craft chocolate. When we started, maybe 25 shops were doing bean-to-bar. Now there are around 180 factories. It’s awesome to help and provide feedback with the other factories so we can all grow and support each other.”
Starr tells me she gets the most joy out of working a counter shift. She reflects, “It reminds me of why we started doing this in the first place. We’ve become a destination for travelers, participating in festivals and meeting our peers out at these events, too. It’s amazing what a piece of chocolate can do to connect with so many people.”
Looking forward to Videri’s growth, Starr sees 2016 as being their year of chef relations. She says there has been an outpouring of community support this year and she had not anticipated how much the chefs from across the Triangle have wanted to work with Videri Chocolate Factory and incorporate their products into their restaurants. These restaurants are included on the “Wall of Fame” list at the front of Videri Chocolate Factory when you first walk in on the left. The list has blossomed so much they have had to extend the list to the other pane of glass to continue on.
If you’re not already in love with Videri Chocolate Factory and the brand they’ve developed, I’ll sweeten the deal. Starr tells me they are expanding to include a second location that will allow them to keep their current location, but have a larger facility to increase production and offer fun hands-on classes for customers and curious chocolate connoisseurs. “We can’t wait to have the increased space and staff to be able to offer classes. It’s an exciting time to be part of the growth in Raleigh and we’re thrilled to be a part of it.” Stop on by Videri Chocolate Factory for a sweet treat; whether it be a peach bonbon before summer’s gone or hot chocolate to warm you up as the weather cools down. Either way, you won’t be let down.
Tessa Nguyen is a chef and registered dietitian working in the Triangle area. She is an alumna of Johnson & Wales University and Meredith College. When Tessa isn’t traveling and discovering new food spots, she teaches culinary nutrition cooking classes at Duke and works as a consultant in the health and wellness industry. You can follow her on Instagram or Twitter @