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Charlottesville's Gearharts Fine Chocolates opens new cafe in Short Pump

Charlottesville chocolatier, Gearharts Fine Chocolates, has returned to Richmond serving up sweets with an all new concept.

The previous Richmond location at 306 Libbie Ave. operated for over a decade before closing in early 2023. While the decision to close up shop didn’t come lightly, founder Tim Gearhart had plans to return to the area bigger and better.

“As time went on we realized we had bigger ideas and bigger thoughts,” Gearhart said. “We knew that we needed some radical change.”

The new dessert cafe, located at 11331 W. Broad St. next to Five Below in the Trader Joe’s anchored Short Pump Station, seats 16 people. And although all of the chocolate work will still happen in Charlottesville, the new space has a picture window into the kitchen allowing customers to see the pastry chefs at work: a hit at the Charlottesville location.

“What we find to be an everyday thing, something as simple as rolling truffles to us is not the sexiest of activities but to others, it’s pretty darn cool,” Gearhart said.

The new Richmond space opened March 18 with a new bakery menu featuring an assortment of baked goods like cookies, cupcakes, brownies and more decadent treats like a buttermilk chocolate cake and a flourless torte.

The cafe also serves beverages like lattes, cappuccinos, espresso, hot tea and what Gearhart refers to as “the best hot chocolate in town.”

A major push to evolve into a dessert cafe came from a large number of requests from Richmond patrons for bakery items sold in the Charlottesville location, which made the jump from retail store to cafe years prior. Gearhart says that Richmond’s popular food culture makes the area great for the dessert cafe concept as well as the already solidified connection between Charlottesville and Richmond.

“Charlottesville and Richmond have such great synergy. There’s so many parallels between the two,” Gearhart said. One parallel being the presence of large universities like University of Virginia and University of Richmond.

A food enthusiast himself, Gearhart’s passion for creating dishes goes back to his childhood, seeking out new things to try like house made bread, bagels and milkshakes.

“I’ve always been a food explorer, ever since I was probably ten or twelve-years-old. That just led to a great interest in food,” Gearhart said.

Working in Charlottesville restaurants throughout high school, Gearhart furthered his cooking career in the Marine Corps where he spent time cooking soups and sauces. While seemingly unrelated on the surface, Gearhart’s time in the Marine Corps is what allowed him to hone in on skills he still uses on a daily basis at Gearharts Fine Chocolates.

“An interesting point about my time in the military that really translated well is the attention to detail and repetition of being a cook in the Marines,” Gearhart said. “Whether it’s a thousand omelets or a thousand chocolates it takes a certain mindset to do it well and to do it well a whole bunch of times.”

Quality ingredients and over-the-top decadence are points that Gearharts Fine Chocolates proudly boasts. An assortment of gourmet chocolates with decadent fillings such as malted milk hazelnut, brown butter caramel and vanilla bean brulee have helped to garner loyal chocolate fans since Gearhart opened the original Charlottesville location in 2001 with co-owner Bill Hamilton.

The dessert cafe may sell treats with over-the-top flair, but Gearhart hopes to keep the business authentic, trying not to stray to far from the principles that led him here.

“At no point in my life did I ever think chocolate was going to be the end all of my career,” Gearhart said. “It was a little bit of the right place right time and me personally evolving as a person. It’s a very genuine and organic kind of business.”


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