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The Doctor Is In

Dr. Sue's Chocolate in Grapevine
Written by Helen Anders. Photographs by Lois M. Rodriguez.

DrSueChocoDisplayThe door opens, and in strides a woman in dark blue scrubs. The doctor is in.

Dr. Sue’s Chocolate is at 417 S. Main St. in Grapevine. Call 817/416-7667.

The sweet, nutty aroma of toasting coconut tickles my nostrils as I walk into Dr. Sue’s Chocolate, a little store tucked into Grapevine’s Main Street amid wineries and other shops.

Pondering the chocolate-coconut confections soon to emerge from the kitchen in the back of the room, I home in on the forest of candy dishes throughout the store, each holding a mound of morsels to taste: a slightly tart cherry-pecan bark, a subtle blood-orange chocolate meltaway, a hearty mocha bark packed with crunchy coffee-bean bits. I am the proverbial kid in the candy store, nibbling my way around the room.

Sue Williams makes her primary living as a physician at Baylor Hospital. For the past few years, she’s also been making chocolate: dark chocolate, healthy chocolate, creative chocolate, chocolate that delights her customers. On a bookshelf near the door, I spy a photo of Dr. Sue posing with Chef Bobby Flay, whose mouth is clearly full—of chocolate, I have to assume. I ask her how she wound up following this unconventional professional recipe.

“I grew up in Abilene, and we had a farm,” she says. Along with tending farm animals and fields of cotton and maize, “we had a one-acre garden where we grew our own very fresh, seasonal foods,” says Dr. Sue, whose hobbies back then also included 4-H, barrel racing in the rodeo, and cooking with her mom.

“My mother was a fantastic cook,” she says. Together, they made candy to enter in the county fair and serve at parties.

When she graduated from Texas Tech in 1982, she wanted to become a county extension agent, the Texas Agricultural Extension Service’s local agricultural educator. “But I was a woman, so they wanted me to be a home economics agent,” she says. She decided to become a doctor instead.

After medical school at UT-Southwestern in Dallas, Williams became a private-practice doctor, board certified in internal medicine, and eventually took a job with Baylor working with the acutely ill. Through it all, she kept cooking, fondly remembering the candy she had made with her mother. Around 2008, she went to Chicago to learn how to make chocolate. “It’s full of science, and it’s totally interesting. We were learning that chocolate might have health benefits.”

Her career as a physician, Dr. Sue realized, melded nicely with being a chocolatier. “I wanted to inspire people to pursue a healthier lifestyle,” she says. She determined to use only dark chocolate—which contains more antioxidants and less sugar than other chocolates—and natural ingredients such as nuts and dried fruit.

“Cherry-pecan bark is our bestsell-er,” she says. The cherries provide a tart sweetness that plays well with the nuts and dark chocolate. Another popular bark, midnight mocha, includes coffee beans from New Mexico, immediately hooking coffee drinkers. Blueberry-ancho chile combines the two flavors beautifully: I get the sweetness of the blueberries right away, and the chile sneaks up a moment later.

Dr. Sue sometimes uses oils from Grapevine Olive Oil Company in her chocolates, creating additional layers of flavor. Rosemary-infused olive oil creates a savory-sweet chocolate that works surprisingly well, and recently she has been experimenting with ingredients such as jalapeños and coriander. Instead of sugar, she uses ginger and figs as sweeteners, and when she occasionally uses cocoa nibs in her candy, she balances their bitterness with honey. Her dark chocolate pairs well with wine, she notes.

“I want to create a dialogue about what’s in your food,” she says. “If you have big flavors, you don’t have to eat as much.”

Dr. Sue started her business in a small rented kitchen, and at first she sold her chocolate to Eatzi’s and Central Market. Now, she has added Whole Foods and other shops to her retail base, and crowds pour into her Main Street store to choose their sweets. She finds the chocolate business a good counterpoint to her job as a physician.

“The hospital often is really very stressful,” she says. “This is the balance to that.” And, yes, she enjoys eating her products. “My favorite afternoon pick-me-up is always the mocha.”

Dr. Sue pays her eight employees but doesn’t take a salary herself. She donates part of her proceeds to nonprofits including Texas Scottish Rite Hospital and the North Texas and Tarrant Area food banks.

She also offers two-hour chocolate-making classes, where “you learn about how you get from the beans to the candy, and how to temper chocolate and make bark, truffles, and a dipping sauce,” she says.

Smiling, she notes that her store has sold chocolates to Willie Nelson’s band members and Toby Keith’s bus driver. “You get to meet all sorts of people,” she says. “Everybody gets excited about chocolate. It makes everybody happy.”

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