Cocoa-nuts rejoice: Santa Cruz County chocolatiers have a match for every dad this Father’s Day

Dads fawning over treats in a chocolate shop
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Got a dad in your life who’s a griller? A rocker? Sports fan? Practical joker? Father’s Day is nearly upon us, and Laura Sutherland has a guide to pairing Dad with offerings from local chocolate makers Marini’s, Tiny House, Donnelly, Mackenzies and Ashby Confections.

Is your dad the kind of guy who can’t get enough sports, no matter what kind? Or the freshly pressed type with a popped collar? Does he wander the globe every chance he gets … or drool over rare vinyl?

No matter what your dad’s passion, Santa Cruz’s homegrown chocolatiers make something special to suit just him. With Father’s Day coming next Sunday, June 18, read on to find out how to pair your father with the perfect chocolate confection to really make his day.

For the barbecue chef: Marini’s Candies

chocolate-covered bacon and potato chips and a s'mores chocolate bar from Marini's Candies
Complement Dad’s grill game with chocolate-covered bacon and potato chips, plus a s’mores chocolate bar or two, from Marini’s Candies.
(Laura Sutherland / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Grillmasters will rejoice when you take over the cooking: Serve Dad a plate of Marini’s chocolate-covered bacon with a side of potato chips — coated in chocolate, of course. For dessert, no need to get the coals just right, because you can forget the skewers — Marini’s has s’mores chocolate bars packed with graham crackers and marshmallows.

The oldest of the chocolate makers in our area, Marini’s has been around since 1915, when Victor Marini bought a popcorn stand on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. He expanded over time and now, four generations later, Marini’s Candies is still serving popcorn — although now mostly in caramel corn style, along with its trademark candy apples, salt water taffy and creamy chocolate fudge that comes in a variety of flavors, like peanut butter chocolate and mint chocolate. But the list of other chocolate treats goes on and on — chocolate-covered gummy bears, chocolate seafoam, hand-dipped nut clusters, toffee and truffles.

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Its flagship candy store, operated by Nick and Gino Marini, is open daily on the Santa Cruz Wharf, and a much smaller Westside Santa Cruz operation is open on weekends. If you visit Marini’s on a Thursday, you can see workers dipping crisp bacon into kettles of melted chocolate in its window-lined dipping station. (Marini’s at the Beach, located at the Boardwalk, is owned by a different family member, Joseph Marini III, but they’re otherwise not affiliated.)

Website | Marini’s at the Wharf: Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf #55A | 831-425-7341 | Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Friday-Saturday 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m. | Marini’s Westside: 332 Ingalls St., Santa Cruz | 831-423-0188 | Saturday-Sunday noon-5 p.m.

For the world traveler: Tiny House Chocolate

Who's Your Dad's Chocolate Matchup?
No passport needed to take Dad on a journey to Brazil and beyond courtesy of Tiny House Chocolate.
(Laura Sutherland / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Take Dad on a globetrotting chocolate-tasting tour with Tiny House, the newest chocolatier on the Santa Cruz scene. Its lineup of single-origin, two-ingredient chocolate bars spans three continents and four regions of Brazil, from the Amazon to Bahia. Set up an at-home tasting with a few of its bars to give Dad a delicious sense of what terroir really means to chocolate.

Brazilian owners Gustavo Hilsdorf and Maiana Lasevicius come by their trade naturally — Lasevicius’ father is a respected artisan chocolate maker in São Paulo. After moving to Santa Cruz in 2014, the couple spent three years experimenting to perfect their own recipes, and started selling their craft chocolate creations in 2018.

“Today we are the only bean-to-bar chocolate company in the U.S. to source our beans from four different parts of Brazil,” says Hilsdorf. “We’ve visited them all, and we also use cacao from India, Ecuador and Tanzania in our chocolates. We bring a touch of our heritage to each batch we make, infusing our chocolates with a distinct Brazilian flair.”

Determined to use the entire cacao bean, they’ve perfected a few unusual products, like cacao tea and a thick cacao nectar that you can use in place of balsamic vinegar or even as a sweetener. They also sell nibs you can use in cooking.

Order online — you’ll receive the chocolates two business days after you put in your order. Or you can buy them at Wild Roots Market and Mountainside Made in Felton and Mini Mint and Pointside Meat Shop on 41st Avenue in Pleasure Point.

Website | Contact:

For the chill rocker dad: Donnelly Chocolates

Who's Your Dad's Chocolate Matchup? For the chill rocker dad: Donnelly Chocolates
Serve that music-loving father some Donnelly goodness on a platter.
(Laura Sutherland / Lookout Santa Cruz)

When the band Barenaked Ladies took the stage last year at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, the lead singer was still finishing up his Donnelly chocolate-covered ice cream bar. He liked it so much he made up a rap song about it on the spot. “Right after that, their fans started coming in for ice cream bars,” laughs Richard Donnelly, who went to culinary school in France and apprenticed at chocolate makers in Paris and Brussels before opening his chocolate shop on Mission Street in Santa Cruz in 1988.

“There was already a candy kitchen in this space, and when the owner put his shop up for sale I decided to buy it. Back then my brother and I were big surfers and loved fishing, so it was the perfect place for us,” says Richard, who’s the owner and chocolate maker; brother Henry handles making the caramel and also has the tough assignment of chief product taster.

Dads fawning over treats in a chocolate shop
Dads (from left) Kevin Gallagher, Peter Doven, Juan Hernandez and Jaime Martinez making their wish lists at Donnelly Chocolates on the Westside.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Donnelly Chocolates really made the map when National Geographic called it one of the world’s 10 best chocolatiers in 2012, and its classic chocolate confections — like chocolates filled with high-end Scotch and tequila, chocolate bars dripping in caramel, nuts or exotic ingredients — or any of its other dozens of unusual chocolate bar pairings are consistently excellent.

It’s known for its intensely chocolate brownies and brownie mix, too — people swing by and regularly buy them out for parties. But Donnelly ice cream bars keep gaining popularity — picture Marianne’s vanilla ice cream coated in a thick layer of Donnelly’s special milk or dark chocolate — you can order one with toasted almonds or homemade caramel, too — and try to stop at just one.

Website | 1509 Mission St., Santa Cruz | 831-458-4214 | Daily noon-6 p.m.

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For the sports fanatic: Mackenzies Chocolates

Who's Your Dad's Chocolate Matchup?
News from the sports world might not always be to Dad’s liking, but Mackenzies has plenty of options to sweeten it up.
(Laura Sutherland / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Soccer lover? Golf devotee? Surfing maniac? Football? Tennis? No matter what sport Dad is passionate about, Mackenzies Chocolates makes it in milk or dark chocolate: You’ll see surfboards, golf clubs, trout for the fisherman — even computers for the gamer if that’s how your pop gets his exercise.

The astonishing level of detail in each piece is made possible by a careful tempering and cooling process, and the number of items Mackenzies molds is mind-blowing. “We have over 2,000 molds,” says Ian Mackenzie, “so if you don’t see what you want you can always ask, like the lady who came in the other day and wanted to know if we ever made squirrels. ‘What kind?’ I asked her — ‘We make five different ones!’”

Ian’s mother, Thelma, started the shop as a hobby in 1984 after her children left home. “Back then very few Americans were making molded chocolate,” he says, “so my parents decided to try it as a niche. It was supposed to be a five-year plan, but here we are today!”

Out of all Mackenzies’ molded chocolates, the most popular items, no matter what the season, are the chocolate seashells — and there are many different varieties of shells, including chocolate shell boxes that hold even more chocolate shells. “My wife likes to joke that nothing says Christmas better than a seashell. This morning we’ve already sold at least eight,” Ian Mackenzie laughs.

Mackenzies makes and sells all kinds of other candy, too, and the filled chocolates are in unusual shapes, like elaborately detailed crowns, chubby mice and perfectly round apples with a little stem filled with caramel.

Website | 1492 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz | 831-425-1492 | Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

For the traditionalist: Ashby Confections

Ashby Confections Chocolate - Traditionalist Dad fathers day gift
Appeal to the old-school fellows with an arrangement of Ashby Confections’ handcrafted chocolates.
(Laura Sutherland / Lookout Santa Cruz)

If your dad has an appreciation for all things classical, Ashby Confections has perfected the art of handcrafting chocolates in a luxurious European style from exceptional ingredients — you’ll find dad-pleasers such as chocolate-covered almonds, chocolate-covered homemade marzipan and liquid toffee-filled chocolates.

Jennifer Ashby started her chocolate business in 2008 after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, and she’s been molding her jewel-like chocolate confections ever since. She sources ingredients from top-quality chocolate makers and our local farmers markets. She gives many of her chocolates an unusual flair and flavor, like tart lemon-filled truffles and her award-winning fresh raspberry truffles.

For dads with big appetites, check out her “tortoises” — named that way instead of turtles because they are so large. With a span like that, Dad might just give you a bite.

Visit her shop and storefront in Scotts Valley to curate the chocolate selection yourself or look for her chocolate table at some of our local farmers markets.

Website | 16C Victor Square, Scotts Valley | 831-454-8299 | Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

The practical joker: Mackenzies and Marini’s

chocolate banana slugs
You wouldn’t want Pops to eat a banana slug in the wild, but Mackenzies and Marini’s have sweeter versions.
(Laura Sutherland / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Throw one of these babies down alongside your dad’s first cup of coffee and see what happens.

Fathers everywhere need to know that the banana slug is our town’s mascot by association, since in 1986 UC Santa Cruz students voted in the slimy, school-bus yellow, redwood-forest-loving, shellless mollusk to represent them until the end of time.

Mackenzies makes edible slugs in three flavors: dark chocolate, milk chocolate and peanut butter, and these 4-inch chocolate replicas show every sluggy detail, including foot fringe and a breathing hole called the pneumostome. Meanwhile, Marini’s crafts its slugs into a lollipop-style confection with big brown eyes.