Nathan Miller Chocolate is an American small batch chocolate factory in Chambersburg, PA, owned and operated by Nathan Miller and his wife Chelsea Russo. Nathan is a formally trained pastry chef who manages the chocolate making “from bean to bar,” meaning he selects and processes the raw cocoa, tempers it, and comes up with unique, artisan flavors like Strawberry + Rye Whiskey, Saukura Cherry, and Pink Pepper + Lemon, just to name a few of the more than one dozen bars in the collection.
Nathan uses the highest quality ingredients, including fair trade chocolate and sugar, and draws on the many local creameries that surround the factory (like Trickling Springs) for organic dairy. Each bar is hand wrapped in artful paper made by a women’s cooperative in Nepal. On the back of every bar is you’ll find tasting notes describing the subtleties of each bar’s flavor profile.
The process of creating a bar begins with Nathan selecting a single origin chocolate and adding flavors as he goes along. The ability to control the flavor is important to Nathan, and he admits at times he’s “geeked out” on a flavor, building a bar that he knows won’t be profitable simply as a treat. Ultimately, though, customer feedback determines what bars move from experimental/small batch to main line.
“We do small batch testing from our store and then release to different stores to buy. If people keep wanting it, then we keep bringing it in,” explains Miller. “I want customers to know we do this for them and we care a lot.”
Growing up in Marysville, PA, Nathan didn’t have a lot of exposure to fine cuisines. He self-describes as a “picky kid” who could detect artificial flavors in products like store-bought cakes. One place he could count on getting delicious comfort food was his grandmothers’ kitchens.
“My dad’s mom cooks everything without a recipe. I didn’t realize until later how much skill that involves,” Miller says. “Most people can’t just walk into a kitchen and do that.”
Nathan’s keen taste buds and fascination with food science led him to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. He apprenticed in Germany, worked for renowned chefs in New York, and then became the pastry and dessert chef at The Kitchen, a celebrated café in Boulder, Colorado. It was while in New York that Miller got his first taste of single origin Madagascar chocolate, and while in Boulder that he dove into chocolate making.
“I got started making chocolates in the kitchen of my house. At the same time, I had a food truck that made pastries. My goal was to create the smallest chocolate factory possible, like, how small can we make it and still produce a lot of stuff?” he recalls.
Nathan Miller Chocolate officially began in Boulder, Colorado, in 2010, and then relocated to Chambersburg in 2012 in order to expand the operation. The business got a jump-start when it won a 2015 Good Food Award, and a mention in The New York Times really launched the brand. These days, word of mouth and a stellar Instagram account (managed by Chelsea) keep business booming. Each month, a staff of six churns out 16,000 bars and ships them all across the nation and as far as Germany and Japan.
Despite the growth, Nathan’s desire to keep his small business operation literally small persists. He operates a café, wholesale chocolate business, and the chocolate factory out of a 2,000-square-foot warehouse that used to belong to his parents.
“We do all batches by hand. As we grow, we add things on and when we identify a bottleneck, we work on whatever the bottleneck is and move on,” he says. “It is pretty intense and we do sell out of certain bars each month. We do a lot of planning and stay loose and nimble.”
The business also stays rooted in community, sourcing from local creameries and building relationships with farmers, something Miller learned to appreciate while in Colorado.
“In Boulder, everything is farm-to-table. I worked for The Kitchen group for a while and got to go out to the farms. In New York restaurants, there was no connection. No traceability. No complexity,” he says. “I think it’s good to shop local because it helps stimulate the economy. Companies that start small can get a little bit bigger and give back to the community as they grow.”
Miller says he would be happy if his company produced 30,000 bars a month. He also confessed that it would be a dream to one day operate from a farm, though he acknowledges this would be a tremendous amount of work.
“I have always wanted to own a farm and produce from the farm. It would probably be a poor decision for me to barge in and believe I could handle a farm, but with the right partner I think I could make it work,” he says.