The art of chocolate: Seabreeze Craft Chocolates opens in Carmel Valley

Seabreeze Craft Chocolate owner and chocolatier Jim Lantry.
(Copyright of Seabreeze Craft Chocolates)

A real-life chocolate factory is now open in Carmel Valley.

At the new Seabreeze Craft Chocolate in Piazza Carmel, owner and chocolatier Jim Lantry gives customers an up-close look at the chocolate-making process, from the cocoa beans being ground and roasted to the chocolate swirling luxuriously inside a melanger. After a process that takes three days, the silky smooth chocolate is used to make Seabreeze confections such as truffles, bonbons, bars, chocolate spreads and one of Seabreeze’s unique offerings: a chocolate charcuterie bar with layers of flavor in one sliceable block, a sure hit for a hostess gift or a sweet stunner among the meats, cheeses and nuts on your board.

Last week one customer struggled at the counter to make a definitive selection from the variety of choices: “I’m having a Willy Wonka moment,” he said.

Lantry had his own Willy Wonka moment in 2020. He had been a successful lobbyist for 40 years, fighting for issues like military housing and for the last 12 years had dedicated his to autism, trying to get behavioral health treatments covered by health insurance.

With the capitol closed during the pandemic, he found himself with a lot of extra time not needing to travel back and forth to Sacramento.

“Instead of sourdough, I did chocolate,” he said.

He studied the art of chocolate making, watching how-to videos on YouTube and reading “Making Chocolate” by the team behind San Francisco-based Dandelion Chocolate. He secured quality cocoa beans sourced from the Maya Mountains in Belize and learned how to make chocolate in his kitchen, roasting it in his oven and mixing it in a small five-pound melanger.

“I decided I liked it, it was fun and people enjoyed my chocolate,” Lantry said.

Seabreeze Craft Chocolate's charcuterie bar.
(Seabreeze Craft Chocolates)

Lantry went on to learn the business side of chocolate in Hawaii, one of the only two places in the United States where cocoa grows, the other being Puerto Rico. (He tried planting his own cocoa tree in his La Jolla backyard but it only lasted 20 days, “It’s too cold.”) At a two-week internship at Manoa Chocolates in Kailua, Hawaii, he studied under Chef Luis Amado, learning valuable lessons while developing his own flavor profiles and style.

After Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed his bill that would have increased the number and type of autism treatments covered by health insurance, Lantry officially retired from lobbying and turned his focus full time on his chocolate.

“It was a sour note, but now I’m starting on a sweet one,” he said.

A selection of chocolates from Seabreeze Craft Chocolates.
(Seabreeze Craft Chocolates)

Originally Lantry had intended to open up shop in Encinitas but he found the available suite in Piazza Carmel in a zip code he knows pretty well. Lantry lived in Carmel Valley for 17 years and raised his three children in the community—his son even worked at the Baskin Robbins storefront now home to Seabreeze when he was in high school.

It was a lengthy permitting process with the city to transform the former Baskin Robbins space into the chocolate factory, taking about a year to get all of the necessary approvals. Inside, Lantry built all of his own display cases and murals on the wall show the detailed steps of the chocolate-making process, from workers skillfully harvesting the pods to cocoa beans fermenting on banana leaves.

While the cocoa roaster and melanger have their own rooms, with windows opening out to the front, the aroma of chocolate fills the space.

At Seabreeze, Lantry roasts cacao sourced mainly from select farms in the Western Hemisphere, including Chiapas, Mexico, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Columbia, Ecuador and Peru. In the last few years he has learned a lot about the difference between good beans and bad beans, about some country’s poor production quality and unfair labor practices.

“I’m very careful about where I buy my beans, there is only one person between me and the farmer in the supply chain,” he said of his efforts to support ethical sources and sustainable business practices.

With his creations, Lantry specializes in dark bitter-free chocolate and dark milk chocolate, chocolate made with the bare legal minimum of milk so the taste of the chocolate shines through. As the only chocolatier on staff, he comes up with all of the flavors and the candy designs— the signature swirls and blots of color.

Cocoa beans are ground fresh at Seabreeze Craft Chocolates.
(Karen Billing)

Seabreeze boasts flavors like brown sugar, salted caramel, horchata, peanut butter and jelly, margarita, dragonfruit, white chocolate honey and Aztec ganache with chili, cinnamon and vanilla.

He does chocolate-covered dried fruit and also has a vegan section, currently starring flavors like boysenberry and pina colada creme. “The vegan section turns out to be very popular in Carmel Valley, I was surprised,” he said.

He is constantly exploring new flavors—the most recent one he came up with during a 3 a.m. craving for jalapeño poppers. For the spicy treat, he paired jalapeño jelly and white chocolate with a cream cheese ganache—“It’s like a very sweet jalapeño popper inside a chocolate shell.”

Lantry loves sharing the art of chocolate-making with others and the shop hosts classes every Tuesday night and the second and fourth Saturday. Participants can learn how to make their own chocolate and truffles for special occasions like Valentine’s Day. Soon, the shop will host a group of Del Mar Pines School students as he will walk them through the chocolate-making process and they will create their own chocolate bars.

The lobbyist-turned-chocolatier said it is gratifying to hear that people like his chocolate, that his style matches their taste. He enjoys talking with customers. helping them celebrate, sharing a little something sweet.

“I love it, it’s a great new experience,” Lantry said.

Seabreeze Craft Chocolates is located at 3840 Valley Centre Drive, Suite 604, San Diego (Carmel Valley), 92130. For more visit