Fran’s Chocolates brings Japanese handcrafted lacquerware to Seattle
By Jocelyn Chui
The story between Fran’s Chocolates and Heiando America is about passion, true craftsmanship, and raising the bar for quality in both chocolate and tableware industry.
When handmade Fran’s Chocolates truffles are combined with Heiando’s handcrafted lacquerware, the memories of the delicate flavor are transformed into a long lasting keepsake.
“It’s a wonderful relationship with Heiando America,” said Fran Bigelow, the founder and president of the local chocolate specialty at a joint event with Heiando America. “They respect our chocolate and we respect their artistry.”
Fran’s Chocolates and Heiando America hosted an Urushi Lacquerware Sale and Exhibit at Fran’s Chocolates in Georgetown on June 19. Lacquerware master craftsman Ryoichi Tomiya flew in from Japan to demonstrate the intricacy involved in producing a piece of lacquerware.
“We cherish the rich tradition as well as the skills and universal beauty of lacquerware, which we have inherited from the past generations,” said Yasuki Matsumoto, the founder of Heiando America. “We hope the event marked or first step in introducing the world of traditional Japanese lacquerware to the U.S.”
Heiando America is a subsidiary company of Yamada Heiando, which has been specializing in handcrafted tableware since 1919 in Japan. The company prides in its perfection of the traditional Japanese art—handcrafted lacquerware— tableware made out of a specific type of wood called keyaki and coated with a type of paint called urushi.
“Most people say lacquerware looks like plastic,” said Matsumoto who wants to keep the Urushi lacquer industry healthy for generations to come. “But as people use it for a long time, the colors begin to change.”
Fran’s Chocolates began its partnership with Heiando America in the fall of 2014. Heiando America designed a lacquer bowl from the Ryu Collection for Fran’s Chocolates which customers can use as a container to hold the delicate truffles and an interior display.
“The brush strokes on the bowl have such beautiful movements,” Bigelow said.
In Spring 2015, the two companies came up with a collection of accessory boxes in bright colors that resemble French macarons, which drew the attention to Bigelow’s inspiration for her business after she tasted her first taste of French confections in 1969.
“These boxes seem to appeal to the younger customers and were sold out fairly quickly,” said Bei Wang, the Retail Operations Manager of Fran’s Chocolate.
Originated in Seattle, Fran’s Chocolates first gained its fame in Japan when some Japanese customers began to notice the company’s Chabako Box, which is made by an expert of traditional Japanese washi scroll and screen construction named Yasushi Yokoo.
“It got popular very quickly in Japan and many Japanese customers who came to Seattle would buy it as collectibles or gifts,” Wang said. “It even got onto some Japanese TV channel.”
Yamada Heiando saw this as an opportunity to bring the art of traditional Japanese lacquerware to North America. The company began to design a container that compliments the intricacy of Fran’s Chocolates handmade truffles and chose Seattle as the first stop for Heiando America.
“Seattle is very close to Japan,” Matsumoto said. “We are a local company. Fran’s is a local company. We are very happy to partner with them.”
Continuing its relationship with Heiando America, Fran’s Chocolates has chosen the perfect chocolate box from the Byakudan Collection for this coming fall.
“The box is coated with reddish brown and black to create the multi-dimensional effect,” Bigelow said. “They make the perfect container for our chocolate, which makes it a lasting gift.”
Wang said that these boxes sold out fairly quickly based on past experiences because customers love to collect them, which mean you will need to act quickly while the supplies last.
The must-try favors are the best-selling gray and smoked salted caramels. Single malt and orange confit are also local favorites. If you want to give your box a variety of savor, also try oolong, dark chocolate espresso, and bittersweet truffle.
文_Jocelyn Chiu; 譯_Jill Ji; 攝影_Lillian Young