In 1950, Brentwood was already well established as LA’s premier celebrity stomping ground, with locals like Joan Crawford and Burt Lancaster swinging by the two-year-old Brentwood Country Mart to do a little shopping or attend a fundraiser.
So when Brentwood resident Myrna Comparte began selling her handmade confections out of her home, she may have had her eye on the famous clientele that would before long put her chocolates on the map. “We have thank-you letters from Marilyn Monroe, the Kennedys, Frank Sinatra,” says Jonathan Grahm, Compartés’ 28-yearold CEO and chocolatier. Less glamorous, but perhaps more significant, Grahm has another bit of ephemera in his collection: Mrs. Comparte’s original recipe box. “They are treasures to me. They’re battered note cards, with drips on them,” says Grahm.
He still uses her English toffee and marzipan recipes, but surely she never could have imagined the delicious concoctions that would bear her name 62 years later—truffles with chocolate flavors like Mango-Chipotle, Pear and Cheese, and Birthday Cake (white chocolate ganache studded with pastel sprinkles). That’s all Grahm’s doing—his inventive, whiz-kid persona and design-savvy flair is taking the venerable candy shop in an entirely new direction.
Compartés—the accent aigu was added and the possessive dropped as part of Grahm’s branding overhaul—has had its ups and downs over the decades, and is currently on its fourth location and, with Grahm, its fourth owner. He bought the business from his father and grandmother in 2008. The shop migrated from Myrna Comparte’s kitchen to a storefront on Montana; a second location was later opened in the Brentwood Country Mart, before it finally moved to its current spot, on Barrington. While Westside children of the ’80s may have fond memories of trips to the Country Mart for lunch at Reddi Chick followed by Comparte’s for chocolate- dipped toffee logs and glacé fruit, by the late 1990s, with Myrna gone, it had lost its luster. Says Grahm, “It had become a washed-down version of itself, unfortunately, through so many changes. When we took it over it was more candy store, not chocolate, and it was more tchotchke.
There were Beanie Babies everywhere.” Grahm’s family bought the business in 1998; Jonathan was only 15, and working as a shipping clerk, when he was inspired to try his hand at candy making. His first creation, Love Nuts, salty-sweet flavor bombs of caramelized nuts rolled in sea salt and dipped in milk chocolate, are still a top seller 10 years later. He was barely out of his teens, and a student at UCLA, when he took over chocolatier duties; the media took notice, and he was soon dubbed LA’s “chocolate prodigy.”
After several redesigns and upgrades, including a 2006 makeover courtesy of the short-lived A&E show Designing Blind, Compartés has reclaimed its glamour.
The Beanie Babies long evicted, the chic, understated storefront now boasts gleaming cases of over 200 constantly rotating, seasonally accented truffles. And the Hollywood elite have returned, too. Recent custom clients include HBO, Disney and Bravo, and the list of Grahm’s celeb fans is a mile long: Klum, Pitt, Beckham, various Desperate Housewives…. “Compartés was a forgotten treasure,” says Grahm.
“By breathing life into it, it’s gotten back on the map.” And Grahm’s map is a global one—Compartés now has seven locations in Tokyo, a phenomenon he attributes to the brand’s celebrity sheen and his obsessive attention to aesthetic details.
Indeed, design is clearly as important to Grahm as ingenious flavor combinations. From brightly hued stripes to tiny flamingos, houndstooth, and winter appropriate plaids, a box of Compartés’ truffles is a feast for the eye as much as the mouth. And with a new 80-piece box on offer for the holiday season (when 20 or 40 truffles just won’t do!), it is quite a feast. Grahm’s design chops are especially on display in two brand-new chocolate bar lines, the Infinite Dream series and the World series, whose wrappers are spangled with unicorns, tropical psychedelia, sumptuous tapestries and mosaics. “I know my chocolate is good,” says Grahm, “so I now have to focus on doing things to differentiate myself in the marketplace.” He labored for two years on the lines, and the results— with flavors like Coney Island (milk chocolate with caramelized waffle cones) and Love Potion (orange peel and pink peppercorn)— would be welcome additions to anyone’s Christmas stocking.
With a not-so-modest goal of transforming a Westside stalwart “into the coolest, hippest chocolate shop in the world,” Grahm seems to be providing a shot in the arm to LA’s chocolate scene. “I’m a third generation native Angeleno,” says Grahm. “Let’s do something for us to be proud of.”