BERKELEY — "It's terrible," said Marilyn Rinzler of Berkeley as she stood outside the soon-to-be-closed Scharffen Berger manufacturing facility here with an empty chocolate sample container in her hand.
Hershey Co., which bought Berkeley-based premium chocolate maker Scharffen Berger in 2005, announced plans this week to close the West Berkeley plant. Most of the chocolate will now be made at a Hershey plant in Robinson, Ill., which has actually been the case for some time, according to Hershey.
"This is a Berkeley enterprise. It should stay in Berkeley, just as Peet's Coffee is a Berkeley enterprise and continues to be in Berkeley," Rinzler said.
The first official batch of Scharffen Berger chocolate was made in the South San Francisco factory of John Scharffenberger and his partner Robert Steinberg in 1996. Scharffen Berger moved to Berkeley in 2001. The premium chocolate caught on with Bay Area foodies immediately, and news of the planned factory closure left a bitter taste in the mouths of many fans.
"Hershey probably looked at its spreadsheet and decided to move. They (Hershey) are committed to the bottom line, not to the community," said Janet Byron of Berkeley. Byron was lunching with a friend at a small cafe nestled in the classic brick and mortar building near Ashby Avenue that houses the manufacturing facility.
Some 150 people will lose their jobs when the facility and its retail store, also in the building, close at some unspecified date this year.
"It's very sad they are closing the factory here, because people are losing their jobs," said Suzy E. of South San Francisco, who asked to be identified only by her last initial. She works at a nearby business that also just recently had layoffs.
"We are committed to assisting our employees with a generous severance package and help in finding jobs," said Kirk Saville, a Hershey spokesman, on Thursday.
The move will consolidate production what Saville described as a "bean-to-bar operation" at the Robinson facility that receives beans from sources all over the world and processes them to product the chocolate, Saville said.
"I am a big fan of Scharffen Berger. I was looking forward to when my kids would be old enough to go on the tour," said Frances Donovan of Kensington. She was referring to a popular tour of the factory, including free samples, that was a favorite foodie pastime for years in Berkeley. Children under six were not admitted.
"I bought from them because they were local, and I'm less likely to be loyal to them now that they are moving," said Donovan, who is a dark chocolate fan. She pointed out that another local candy company, Charles Chocolates, is just a few blocks from the Scharffen Berger facility.
"I think the quality of the chocolate will deteriorate," said Rinzler, who said milk chocolate is her favorite Scharffen Berger flavor.
"We will continue to source the world's best cacao to create our rich and distinct chocolate. We will maintain the highest quality standards for our artisan chocolate," said Saville, a quote he has repeated almost word for word to various Bay Area news media. Cacao is the plant whose seeds are used to make chocolate.
Chocolate lovers did not appear appeased.
"A place like this (Scharffen Berger) has a reputation for taking care because of making the product on a small scale," Byron said. "Like small batches of beer made in a brewery as opposed to Budweiser."
Rinzler agreed with Byron's analogy. "I own Poulet (a Berkeley-based gourmet take-out food store), and I'm not selling to KFC."
Janis Mara can be reached at (925) 952-2671 or email@example.com.