Sweet! S.F. man takes sinful sugar out of chocolate bars

Ben Glass can thank his dentist for setting off the chain of events that led to his founding Good Chocolate, a sugar-free, low-carb, low-cal product.

Glass was experiencing gum pain, and when his dentist learned of his patient’s coffee-with-sugar habit, he introduced Glass to xylitol, an alternative sweetener. Though Glass found that too much of it was bad for his digestive system, his interest in alternative sweeteners stuck.

Years earlier, as an undergraduate at Harvard University and an athlete on its highly ranked rowing team, he’d become aware of “the effects of food and exercise on my body,” he said.

Plus, he grew up helping his mom quite a bit in the kitchen.

In his search for a new sweetener that wouldn’t upset his stomach, Glass learned about erythritol, and began using that in his coffee. He also began educating himself about sugar, especially the work of UCSF pediatrics professor Robert Lustig, whose lecture “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” has over 5 million views on YouTube. As Glass learned, sugar doesn’t just damage your teeth.

“Sugar is much worse in causing heart disease and diabetes and obesity than fat,” said Glass, citing a recent New York Times article. “The sugar industry tried to manipulate the science back in the ’60s to make it look better than fat, influencing the diets of a whole generation.”

Good Chocolate’s Michael Melnick (left) and Ben Glass photos/courtesy good chocolate

When he returned to his dentist after cutting out sugar, Glass not only got a clean bill of health, but was told that he had one of the healthiest adult mouths his dentist had ever seen. As it turns out, erythritol may also help prevent tooth decay.

Glass, who lives in San Francisco, says he had his “a-ha moment” about making a sugar-free chocolate right there in the dentist’s chair, and immediately turned to Michael Melnick, his longtime colleague in Israel.

The two first met in 2000, while leading a teen tour to Israel through Young Judaea. They bonded over dealing with a difficult third counselor, which brought their problem-solving skills to the fore, and realized that both love a good challenge.

By 2008, they founded Talkwise, with offices in San Francisco and Tel Aviv, providing branding, brand strategy and identity design for Israeli startups, helping them tailor their message for the American market.

The Jerusalem-born Melnick spent a few years in Berkeley in early childhood while his father was getting a Ph.D. in economics, but both parents were immigrants to Israel from Santiago, Chile. While food has always been the way his family connects, Melnick admitted he has no experience in the food industry other than he loves to eat.

So when Glass told Melnick he wanted to start a chocolate company, Melnick’s first  response was: “As long as it doesn’t get in the way of our day-to-day work, I don’t care what you do.”

Chocolate without the “guilty pleasure”

Three years ago, as Glass developed this side interest, he brought on a pastry chef to help him develop recipes. They went through numerous iterations, finding critics wherever possible. Finally, on a business trip to Israel, Glass gave Melnick a sample.

“I didn’t like it,” Melnick remembered. “But I smiled and said, ‘That’s wonderful that you’re making chocolate with no sugar, good for you.’ ”

What ultimately convinced Melnick to join Glass in this new venture was the huge opportunity he saw in bringing it to market.

“Chocolate is usually seen as a guilty pleasure, but this turns the story upside-

down,” said Melnick, who serves as the company’s “goodness designer.”

“From a branding perspective, it’s a huge challenge and we can introduce a project that’s a game changer, and do something that challenges big sugar as an industry. That became massively appealing and engaging, the type of challenge you can only dream of, and it made the fuel for my coming on and saying, ‘Let’s do this thing.’ ”

Also, both men wanted to use their branding know-how for something more personal.

“After working on other people’s projects for so long, we both had a deep desire to build a company that makes a product for people and not just be service providers,” said Glass. “We wanted to build something that’s meaningful and that helps people, and that was part of the DNA of Good Chocolate.”

Good Chocolate comes in six flavors: mint, Himalayan salt, signature dark, ginger, milk and salted almond, and is available online and in select stores around the Bay Area (check www.goodchocolate.com/find-goodness for locations). It will also be sold during a pop-up event on the fourth floor of the Westfield Shopping Centre in San Francisco from Dec. 1 to Jan. 7.

SMALL BITES: As I wrote in the Forward when I reviewed “The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Foods” by Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern (2016, Flatiron Books): “If gefilte fish was in need of an image makeover — and let’s be honest, it was — it couldn’t have done much better than having these two taking up its cause.”

The duo first founded a company in Brooklyn (where else?) called “The Gefilteria,” selling artisanally made, sustainably sourced gefilte fish a few years back, which led to this cookbook, which my esteemed panel of tasters loved. Yoskowitz and Alpern will be in the Bay Area next week for several events:

• Nov. 30, 6:30 p.m. Omnivore Books, 3885a Cesar Chavez St., S.F. Talk and book-signing.

• Dec. 1, 7:30 p.m. “Gefilte Manifesto”-inspired dinner at Saul’s Deli, 1475 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley.

• Dec. 2, 3 p.m. demo and tasting at JCC of San Francisco, 3200 California St., as part of JCC’s new weekly Hanukkah Frydays series through December.

• Dec. 3, 10:30 a.m. cooking demo, Ferry Building farmers market, S.F.

• Dec. 4, 5 p.m. pop-up dinner with L’Chaim Foods, Oshman Family JCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto.

For details, see www.gefilteria.com/calendar-of-events.

Four teams will compete to make the best latke in a contest Dec. 19 at Whole Foods Market in Los Altos. Judges are Effie Speigler, executive chef of O.co Coliseum, and Kenji Lopez-Alt, author of the James Beard Award-winning cookbook “The Food Lab” and column of the same name on seriouseats.com.

Hosted by the Jewish Study Network and the Oshman Family JCC, the contest begins at 7 p.m. Dec. 19 with Rabbi Joey Felsen of the Jewish Study Network serving as emcee. Lopez-Alt will also discuss the science behind making a good latke.

We’ve been tipped off to the fact that the pop-up Augie’s Authentic Montreal Smoke Meat is close to opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Berkeley at the start of 2017. If you can’t wait that long, it’ll be popping up at the JCCSF from 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 29. Watch this space for details as we learn more.

Rebecca Katz, a Marin-based whole foods chef and cookbook author, has a new book, “Clean Soups: Simple Nourishing Recipes for Health and Vitality,” co-written with Mat Edelson. Katz — perhaps best known for her books “The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen” and “One Bite at a Time” — calls soups the equivalent of a “culinary hug.”

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."