Business Spotlight: Delray Beach entrepreneur lost his heart to chocolate

Some of Tyler Levitetz’s creations border on crazy (above), but traditional chocolate hearts will be available for Valentine’s Day

Photos by  Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Rich Pollack

Tyler Levitetz says he has no idea what Valentine’s Day will bring to his 5150 Chocolate Co.

In fact, he doesn’t even know what classic or unique selections will be available in his new craft chocolate factory’s retail shop — and he probably won’t know until a few days ahead of time.

“What we do know is that what we’re going to have this Valentine’s Day is going to be different than what we’ll have next Valentine’s Day,” he says with certainty.

If opening day in September and the days before Christmas are any indication, chances are it will be crazy busy, and that’s perfect for Levitetz, who runs a business with an off-the-wall approach unlike any other chocolate factory.

“Everyone who knew I wanted to do this said I was literally out of my mind,” says Levitetz, who grew up in Gulf Stream. At 29, he still skateboards to the multimillion-dollar chocolate factory that took five years of planning before opening at 1010 N. Federal Highway in Delray Beach.

He even chose to put 5150 — slang for crazy person on the loose, derived from California police code — into the name of his company. If that doesn’t say a little something about who he is, perhaps the werewolf in front of the shop will offer confirmation.

Levitetz proudly describes his product as “crazy good chocolate.” But don’t be fooled by his whimsy. Behind it is a skilled entrepreneur with a passion for chocolate and a knowledge, likely unmatched in South Florida and perhaps even in the state, of how it is made.

What separates Levitetz and 5150 Chocolate Co. from many other large-scale chocolate businesses is the process of making chocolate and creating everything from candy bars with names like Fried Watermelon Seed and Sticky Bun to pistachio-flavored bonbons and Batman lollipops. 

While it’s common for chocolatiers to make confections from pre-made chocolate that is melted down then transformed into shapes sold to customers, the 5150 Chocolate Co. begins with cacao beans imported from farms throughout the world and transforms them into chocolate.

Prior to opening the business, Levitetz traveled from country to country visiting farms and getting to know the cacao growers and developing relationships with them.

He’s on good enough terms with them that when he received a shipment of beans that weren’t up to his standards, he was able to return them to the grower and get a much better replacement.

A large portion of the beans used in chocolate made by 5150 are certified organic and all the beans, Levitetz said, come from farms that don’t use pesticides.

The dark chocolate, he says, is made with just two ingredients — sugar and cacao — before flavoring is added. In many cases, the flavors are designed to complement the distinctiveness of the bean that reflects the country of origin.

Levitetz’s evolution from a skateboarder riding recklessly on whatever high ground he could find near State Road A1A in Ocean Ridge or Briny Breezes, began after he headed to California, where he worked in restaurants as a line cook, and later in Chicago, where he studied to be a pastry chef.

He was smitten while in the section of the program that dealt with chocolate.

“That’s when I knew it was what I always wanted to do,” Levitetz said.

From there he moved to Fort Myers, where he worked for two years with chocolatier Norman Love, getting what some might call a master’s degree in chocolate.

Along the way, Levitetz would go home after work or school and work with chocolate in his apartment.

“I was constantly experimenting with miniature sculptures,” he said.

For Levitetz, making chocolate from the bean is an opportunity to ensure the quality of his sweet treats.

“We’re controlling every step of the way so there’s no compromising,” he said.

Fashioning chocolate — into everything from giant sculptures of the Grinch to colored white chocolate Legos and dark chocolate replicas of Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon — gives Levitetz a chance to express his creativity.

“As soon as people come in, they’re surprised by what can be done with chocolate — that it can be used as an artistic medium,” says manager Tara Floyd. “It definitely catches people off guard.”

While chocolate is the main attraction, the 5150 Chocolate Co. also serves gelato and specialty coffees. Those made with fresh chocolate, of course, are particularly good.

The future for the company includes opening of more retail shops — one just opened in Miami — and perhaps factory tours.

As of late last month, however, what will be available to shoppers on Valentine’s Day was still up the air — or perhaps just a well-guarded secret.

Still, visitors shouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of hearts made with unusual twists and some specialty bonbons.

“We’ll be prepared,” Levitetz said. 

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