Seafood theme sets Georgia-made Sugar Marsh Cottage chocolates apart

This year s Valentine offerings from Sugar Marsh Cottage include heart-shaped boxes made from dark chocolate and handmade bonbons filled with Chambord cream filling.

This year s Valentine offerings from Sugar Marsh Cottage include heart-shaped boxes made from dark chocolate and handmade bonbons filled with Chambord cream filling.

When people visit Darien, on the Altamaha River, they likely are thinking seafood, whether they’re planning to fish for it or enjoy it at one of the town’s riverside restaurants.

But, meander around the community, laid out in squares like its larger neighbor, Savannah, and you will discover a "seafood" treat of another sort, the seashell-shaped chocolates sold at Sugar Marsh Cottage.

The “cottage” is an elegant two-story house on the city’s Vernon Square. Built in the 1930s, it once was the home of pharmacist Charles Stebbins.

Sugar Marsh Cottage chocolatier Dale Potts specializes in seafood-shaped chocolates, such as these pink buttermint shrimp. CONTRIBUTED BY SUGAR MARSH COTTAGE

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Dale Potts and her husband, Charlie, had been part-time residents of Darien for more than a dozen years, living in Atlanta, but traveling to Darien as often as possible. In 2010, when they found the Stebbins house was for sale, they bought it, moving themselves and Dale’s confectionery business to Darien for good.

They still live in a small house they bought as a second home decades before, and the Stebbins house became Sugar Marsh Cottage, housing the production and shipping of Potts’ array of artisan chocolates. Two rooms of the house serve as the retail showroom, with beautifully decorated tables and shelves filled with beribboned packages in the company’s signature chartreuse color. The chocolates also can be purchased online.

Tiny turtle-shaped chocolates top pecans and caramel in this Sugar Marsh Cottage treat. CONTRIBUTED BY SUGAR MARSH COTTAGE

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Potts didn’t start out to be a chocolatier. She worked as a construction manager for a large commercial general contractor in Atlanta. She enjoyed making toffee and seashell-shaped shortbread cookies called coquilles for family and friends. “Every time we’d come to Darien, I would bring some of those cookies for Fannie Buccanon, our 85-year-old neighbor, and her family,” Potts said. “She told me I should sell them, so she really was the one who planted the seed for our business.”

Taking the leap to become a full-time chocolatier was not something Potts did lightly. She enrolled in classes with Ecole Chocolat in Vancouver, British Columbia. “That gave me the confidence to move forward,” she said. “Then, I began experimenting with chocolates in different cocoa ratios.” Ultimately, she chose to work with the products of Guittard Chocolate Co. in California.

Sugar Marsh Cottage’s toffee, cream-filled bonbons and chocolate-dipped shortbread hearts were the products that inspired the business. CONTRIBUTED BY SUGAR MARSH COTTAGE

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Today, she and her staff mix Guittard bittersweet chocolate and milk chocolate with fine bits of sea salt toffee, and use that to form their molded chocolates, available in shapes ranging from tiny turtles to scallops, starfish, whelks and cockles. They also make molded white chocolates in buttermint and orange blossom flavors. Their bestseller is a line of pale pink buttermint white chocolate shrimp. Potts estimates Sugar Marsh Cottage sold 8,500 of them last year.

Another signature item is Potts’ chocolate-caramel turtle. It’s not the usual dollop of caramel sitting on pecans and topped with a spoonful of chocolate; these candies retain the pecans and caramel, but each is topped with a tiny molded chocolate turtle. It’s a small touch that delights, and an example of how Sugar Marsh Cottage looks for ways to create chocolates that are a little out of the ordinary.

The catch from Darien’s shrimp boats inspired the pink buttermint shrimp candies that are one of Sugar Marsh Cottage’s biggest sellers. CONTRIBUTED BY SUGAR MARSH COTTAGE

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These days, Potts is concentrating on her latest love, creating bonbons. She’s partnered with local distillery Richland Rum to create bonbons with cream fillings that use clear rum and Richland Rum IPA. And, she’s partnered with Golden Isle Olive Oil in St. Simons to create a line of bonbons filled with blood orange-infused olive oil cream.

The bulk of Sugar Marsh Cottage’s business is wholesale. An original client was the Breakers Palm Beach, for whom Potts and her staff provided 10,000 little boxes of chocolate each month for the hotel’s turndown service. “We also provided them with gift boxes with what we call the ‘ta-da’ bow,” she said. “When I was delivering one day, the assistant general manager asked me if I had a machine that did those bows. ‘No,’ I told her. ‘Every one is hand tied.’”

Sugar Marsh Cottage chocolates are made and shipped from a 1930s home on historic Vernon Square in Darien. CONTRIBUTED BY H2O CREATIVE GROUP

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Sea Palms Resort of St. Simons is the company’s latest wholesale client, and retail customers include gourmet specialty shops on St. Simons Island and Erika Reade in Atlanta’s Buckhead area.

Sugar Marsh Cottage’s chartreuse boxes and bows reflect a deliberate choice. “We do a lot of business with corporations, and I wanted a color that wasn’t too feminine, wasn’t too masculine,” Potts said. “We keep the green year-round, but change our other colors seasonally, adding turquoise for Easter, orange for fall, hot pink at Christmas. It lets us switch things up, but keep our core corporate color.”


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