Eight South Grand Avenue in Montrose is an unassuming place. Nestled at one end of Sampler Square, an up and coming strip off West Main, the large wooden door marked Alpen Confections hardly suggests the alternative reality of chocolate that lies behind it.
Such is the nature of the small and oddly-shaped space, you’d be forgiven for not knowing what exactly Alpen Confections does when you first walk in. It could be an art studio, a medical professional of some kind, or a jeweler. Gone are the trappings of a “typical” chocolate shop: no dark colors, old wood, or that lived in quality that is suggestive of a Swiss cottage. The space is pristine, with sharp angles of gloss white and pumpkin orange dominating. Behind the curtain (both literally and metaphorically), the manufacturing area is a lab of drawers and precision instruments that would seem to be better suited to a plastic surgeon than a chocolatier.
In a glass case, the chocolates, truffles, and bonbons do little to reassure you that this is a place where you can get things to eat. The polished geometry of some of the chocolates is gem quality while the vibrant colors are often described by first time visitors as “too pretty to eat.” The handwritten descriptions suggest something most definitely designed for delight, with words like “soy sauce reduction” and “passionfruit ganache” intriguing everyone.
Much of the history leading to the creation of Alpen Confections is equally intriguing. Owners Lin McKay and Mike Schafer have a storied past in the world of chocolate and pastry, and yet much of what makes them and their chocolates so unique is their experience beyond international pastry programs.
Looking at their collegiate resumes - German and chemistry, theater and communications - it seems that precision chocolate making with a dramatic flair was almost an inevitability. Even their chocolate origin story, a tale of watching a documentary leading to cashing in 401ks to pursue a life of making chocolate, suggests the romanticism that is so evident in their bonbons.
They are passionate about their craft, flavors, and technique. The pair have been known to work for 14 hours and then go home and cook for another four hours on something new or to perfect a recipe.
Everything about the business is complementary. The chocolates are world class, international in scope and discipline, and yet much of what Mike and Lin love is deeply rooted here on the Western Slope.
They love the trails, exploring with their dogs and exploring local flora and fauna (undoubtedly with a view to incorporating them into their work where possible). They are inspired by artists of the area, often highlighting Colorado craft companies. Montanya Rum from Crested Butte contributes to the tropical Orange Rum bonbon, while Cimmaron Coffee Roasters, located at the end of Sampler Square, lends a taste of home to their fully French mocha chocolates.
Montrose is a city of contrasts. A city with one foot in the old world and one in the new. Where artisan chocolates and ranchers rub shoulders in the supermarket. A city where Alpen Confections has found a perfect home.