Los Angeles Chocolatier Jonathan Grahm Interview American Lifestyle
THE SWEETEST GUY IN HOLLYWOOD
Catching up with Chocolatier Jonathan Grahm by Shelly Rose for American Lifestyle Magazine. Jonathan Grahm, CEO of Compartes Chocolatier, shares fresh truffle flavors, promising business opportunities and current life philosphies.
JONATHAN GRAHM, WIZARD OF ALL things chocolate, was just twenty-one years old when I first interviewed him, becoming the CEO of his family’s business at the age of fifteen. His father noticed his love for the foodie art form, and handed over the reins. Nine years later, a mature Grahm sees life through the wiser, but no less passionate eyes of a thirty-year-old. “Compartes is me. It’s the reflection of all my passions for art, food, design, fashion, and travel, so the brand and the chocolate are constantly evolving and growing just as I am. I started making chocolate at fifteen, and at twenty-one, I reinvented Compartes with new branding and new recipes. About two or three years ago, I redid everything, and remodeled the store. There is a constant evolution and growth with Compartes that reflects my personal life and personality,” Grahm muses. It’s this joie de vivre that has made Grahm so successful and likable in the business.
Originally a political science major at UCLA, Grahm jokes his alternate potential career of becoming a lawyer would have involved less happy people. The chocolate business allows him to fuse art, design, fashion, and his LA background and use chocolate as a platform to create something special and different. A self-described morning person, Grahm wakes up with fresh ideas and even dreams of new patterns or prints for his chocolate bars. Early strolls around the farmers’ market to acquire fresh fruit are another source of ingredient inspiration. Blood oranges, limequats, mulberries, and of course California-grown strawberries and raspberries have all made appearances in chocolates. His menu of chocolate truffle flavors is extensive, numbering well over one hundred chocolate flavors now. Some of the most popular include smoked sea salt, honey peanut butter, Kona coffee, browned butter, and fleur de sel caramel. On the exotic end of the spectrum are mango saffron, raspberry pink pepper, strawberry champagne, and Meyer lemon lavender. Grahm also rolls out signature holiday chocolate flavors like s’mores, pecan pie, gingerbread, eggnog, pumpkin, and honey rum.
Aside from truffles, Compartes is known for their gourmet chocolate bar line. Comments Grahm, “This line really features a lot of my heart and soul. They all have meaning to me. There are twenty-eight different bars and designs in the line. I used some of my own personal photographs from my travel. There are tributes to people in my life. I designed the line when I was going through a transitional phase in my life, so it was really great to be able to channel that into my bars.” The Old Hollywood bar is based on an art deco sconce in his West Hollywood home. The Tropical Paradise bar features a photo of an epic sunset he took on his favorite beach in Kauai. And his mother’s favorite animal, the hummingbird, also gets a spot at the center of the Tropical Paradise bar as a nod to the most special woman in his life. The bars also feature poetry by Grahm, who credits musical artist Lana Del Rey for the inspiration. “I was listening to her Born to Die album constantly during my design process.” His good friend Faith Evans has also played a major role in both his personal and professional life. Says Grahm of the special friendship, “She and I have developed such an amazing friendship. We are artists in different crafts, but appreciate each other’s talents. I have been in the studio with her, and the creative energy just makes me feel electric and want to create. She tells me not to let anyone steal my joy. Period.”
And Grahm has so much to be joyful about! His list of corporate chocolate gift clients includes Disney, Facebook, Dreamworks, Fox, Canon, Miramax, Chelsea Lately, and AMC. Oprah Winfrey even bestowed her prestigious Favorite Things honor on Compartes. Perhaps most impressive in light of the success of the business is the lack of any advertising. Everything is word of mouth. Compartes has been around for sixty-five years because people love what they do. “There is something special here, and I am so happy that people see it and continue to patronize our business. I never want to get too big or too corporate. I love the feel of our small business and knowing people by name and knowing what they want when they call on the phone.”
Though he raves about Kauai as the most perfect travel destination with its lush greenery and waterfalls, Los Angeles has always been home for Grahm, and that’s just fine with him. “LA is the best city on earth as far as I’m concerned. It has the best weather in the country, the food scene is growing tremendously, and the city has everything and anything you could ever want.” He’d like to see a shop in New York City at some point, and entertains the idea of living there for a year. There are currently six shops in Japan, after a department store flew Grahm there for a blind chocolate competition. Compartes beat out twenty-four other famous chocolatiers, and Grahm quickly garnered a following there. There are three chocolate-making kitchens there, and during the Valentine holiday, they have over one hundred pop-up shops around the country. Aside from an East Coast store, Grahm has a few other projects on the drawing board, including a book of chocolate recipes and stories. He is also designing a line of men’s accessories. Custom chocolates are a common sight at Compartes, used for gifts or promotion with special logos and designs.
On top of that, Grahm has connected with Mindy Grossman, the CEO of Home Shopping Network. In this venue, special holiday and Valentine collections are sold to rave reviews from chocolate connoisseurs and casual fans alike. If that’s not enough, Grahm also debuted a new line of artisan nut butters and jams last year. Made with fresh ingredients from the local farmers’ market, Grahm whips up flavors like maple almond butter, apricot preserves, and raspberry rose jam. No longer a rookie in the chocolate business, Grahm has had fifteen years to hone not only his craft, but also his philosophies on life. He’s quite pleased with the current aesthetic of Compartes, dubbed the “Prada of chocolate” by some. The sleek black and white color scheme suits his style, and he doesn’t foresee changes to the logo or color scheme, though evolution is always on the table.
As far as relationships, he’s just coming out of his twenties, which are a time of great (and sometimes challenging) personal growth. Los Angeles can be a tough city to meet people, but Grahm seems to have surrounded himself with solid friends and family—people who believe in his vision, both as a businessman and a person. Grahm cherishes his time more as Compartes gets busier and busier. “I realized in the past year, I need to take time for me. I love to travel. I am a huge nature lover, and my favorite thing to do is go snorkeling and whale watching. My friends call me the whale whisperer because I’m always having profound encounters with dolphins and whales.” Ever the animal lover, Grahm speaks most highly of his own dogs and the amazing loyalty and companionship they offer. Nine years later, Grahm is still one of the loveliest, most sincere people I’ve had the honor of interviewing, despite his famous clientele and insanely popular chocolates. His favorite confection, homemade honey peanut butter, seems aptly representative of this sweet soul who is so deserving of all of his current and future success.