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Dude, Sweet Chocolate Is Moving Across Bishop Arts—and Offering Celebratory Perks

Katherine Clapner is not taking her almost 15-year-old chocolate shop too far away—just a block down Eighth Street, to a beautiful old house that can host tastings, parties, and s’mores nights.
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This looks like a heck of a haul of Dude, Sweet Chocolate.

“We have three weeks to pull this off. My stress level is high.”

It’s crunch time for Katherine Clapner and her beloved shop, Dude, Sweet Chocolate. The store is moving across the Bishop Arts District to a big, beautiful new space on July 1. There’s a lot to do in the last three weeks before the move. The new location is a historic two-story house built in 1945 according to city records, but much older than that according to everyone involved in its restoration.

Having been inside, I side with the restorers, not the records. The window frames aren’t all parallel anymore. The landlord is replacing rotting wood on the front porch. Interior doors rather spookily—and magically—manage to show something like a dozen layers of paint all at once, in spotted chaotic beauty. “Every single color of paint tells the story of this house,” Clapner says, admiring one of the doors.

Dude, Sweet Chocolate employs only seven people, and they’re wrapping up an outburst of truffle-making so they can spend the next few weeks finishing the new building. There’s painting to be done, tables and chairs to move in, wallpaper to put up, a patio to decorate, and concrete to pour. Landscaping should be done within the next few days. A room that was completely covered in coffee-roasting residue has been scrubbed down. When I stopped by earlier this week, Clapner was staring through paint-speckled eyeglasses at a literal ton of mulch that had just been delivered in the front yard.

The end result of all this work is a chocolate shop Clapner has been dreaming about for years. As she says, “It’s a culmination of everything I’ve done and all the things that I didn’t have previously.”

There will be room for all kinds of new excitement. The old house’s dining room will give Clapner a space to host small tastings, tea parties, classes, and other events. Guests for tastings will use a semi-hidden side entrance, guarded by a big statue of a chocolate bunny. The front porch is an ideal hangout spot right on Bishop Arts’ central corner, across the street from Hunky’s and Veracruz Cafe.

In the side yard, patio tables will be joined in wintertime by a firepit where customers can make s’mores with Dude, Sweet chocolate bars. (Tobeto Design is making the firepit.) Summertime will mean slushies and snow cones; Dude, Sweet used to sell soft serve but Bishop Arts is now overcrowded with ice cream joints between Melt, Botolino, and Palmieri Cafe. “I love snow cones, and there should be something icy down here,” Clapner says. “There’s a lot of creamy, but not really icy.”

The new house will host themed Halloween parties, flamboyant Christmas displays, maybe even an Easter egg hunt. “The idea was to have something that’s for the neighborhood,” Clapner says. “I’ve wanted to do an Easter egg hunt forever, but you can’t send kids down the middle of the street.”

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Katherine Clapner in 2021. Manny Rodriguez

To get through the next month of work, Dude, Sweet is launching a Kickstarter. This is not a plea for help. According to Clapner, “I don’t want, just, people (to) give me money.”

Instead, it’s a pre-pay system for big rewards: a special grand-opening box of exclusive chocolates (not available otherwise), chocolate-making classes for kids, and not one but four grand opening events that will pair Dude, Sweet treats with food from Bishop Arts’ favorite restaurants. If you’re willing to chip in enough, Clapner will custom-tailor a menu of treats to your tastes, for a party in your house during the holidays.

The pre-paid Kickstarter treats and parties are more like insurance than necessity, since summer is always a slower retail season in Bishop Arts. Last summer, in fact, was even harder on Dude, Sweet than the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite that recent challenge, the chocolate shop is currently doing some of its best work ever. Its Valentine’s box, inspired by the movie The Grand Budapest Hotel, included maybe my favorite Dude, Sweet truffle, which featured grapefruit, Seedlip, and the not-chocolate kind of truffles. I have an unhealthy relationship with the Pony Boy bar, made with golden milk chocolate and filled with toasted quinoa, like a sophisticated version of a Hershey’s Krackel. A clerk at the store recently scared me by offering a free sample of a limited-edition lavender chocolate—lavender is one of the strongest flavors there is—but it, too, is absurdly good and smartly balanced.

This chocolate shop is Bishop Arts royalty. It’s been in the neighborhood for more than 14 years. Clapner still remembers how the energy on her original block changed when a brand-new restaurant called Lucia opened next door. “I’ve seen the neighborhood flip a few times,” she says now. That’s part of why she’s making the move: she’s seen the district’s epicenter move slightly east, with new businesses opening down Eighth Street along the stretch anchored by Wild Detectives, Mantiques, and Taco y Vino. Meanwhile, of the retail stores surrounding the current chocolate location, only one—Ampelos Wines—is regularly open in evenings, which has an effect on the block’s energy.

The other reason to make a move is all those opportunities for outdoor hijinks, holiday decorations, and block parties. Clapner wants to challenge some of her neighbors to a dessert throwdown. She envisions the house painted in a “Goth Victorian” scheme.

But for now, her team is at work inside. We’ll all get to see the results on July 1. Kickstarter supporters will be invited to the opening parties, but with time, Dude, Sweet Chocolate hopes to be the center of more, bigger, better parties in Bishop Arts.

Dude, Sweet Chocolate, 336 W. Eighth St. (new location)

Author

Brian Reinhart

Brian Reinhart

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Brian Reinhart became D Magazine's dining critic in 2022 after six years of writing about restaurants for the Dallas Observer and the Dallas Morning News.
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