Complete Chocolate Lover’s Guide for the San Francisco Bay Area

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Chocolate heaven


Chocolate, grave robbing, and Freemasons — stories beneath the serene surfaces of local cemeteries

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2023 has been a sadder than usual year for me. In the first 3 months, I attended 3 funerals of loved ones. And two friends’ dogs died during the same period — if you’re like me and view pets as part of the family, you can understand that these losses have felt just as sad. Our unusually cold and wet winter just reinforced the sadness.

The funerals helped with my grief. It might sound weird but I like funerals. I like spending time with others celebrating/honoring/remembering people who were important to me. I won’t say funerals cheer me up but they do make me feel better. And for similar reasons I like to visit gravesites to pay my respects.

Gravesites of chocolate pioneers

Ghirardelli and Guittard
SFBA chocolate culture started with these 2 guys

Living in SFBA there are some famous residents’ gravesites to visit alongside our loved ones’ including the 2 pioneers of SFBA chocolate: Domenico Ghirardelli and Etienne Guittard, who brought chocolate to SFBA in the 1800s and whose businesses still operate here today. While they were both chocolate makers, their companies are different and how they are buried has parallels to their businesses today.

Most chocolate lovers know Ghirardelli chocolate — it’s available in grocery stores, drug stores, department stores, and other places nationwide. And most of those people know Ghirardelli has San Francisco roots. The flagship complex is a big tourist attraction in SF with 3 or 4 different areas for shopping including the “Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience.” There are 6 more Ghirardelli shops and factory outlets in SFBA. Ghirardelli chocolate is easy to find.

Guittard chocolate is less well known and harder to find. Usually you have to be in the business — lots of chocolatiers especially SFBA ones use it — or be more of a chocolate nerd to know it. It is available across the country but in way fewer locations and what’s available is mostly their baking chocolate. If you want their bars or other products you have to order from their site or occasionally you can find them in specialty shops. And while their factory is in SFBA there’s no store attached and no factory tours. The chocolate aroma that hovers around the site is the only “Chocolate Experience” available.

So it goes with their gravesites. Ghirardelli’s place of eternal rest is easy to find — it’s a mausoleum on Millionaires Row in Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery. Guittard’s final resting place is much harder to locate.

In the spotlight

I had been meaning to visit Mountain View Cemetery and check out Ghirardelli’s mausoleum for years but it took a pandemic to get me there. Cacaopod and I went to Mountain View Cemetery on the first day of the state-imposed COVID-19 quarantine in March 2020. Everything felt unreal and most places were closed including our gym so a cemetery seemed like a safe place to get some exercise while avoiding a contagion.

Turned out a lot of other people thought like us with many in workout gear and some dog walkers in the mix. We were all steering a wide berth around each other as we navigated the new protocols of physical space so it felt okay even if it was more crowded than I expected.

And the cemetery is a pretty place for a walk. Millionaires Row is about midway up a hill so you will get a little hike in to reach it. (You can cheat and drive up too.)

You can’t miss it — amid the graves and monuments scattered around Mountain View Cemetery there’s a row of “houses” on the hillside. Ghirardelli’s mausoleum is in the middle of the row.

Ghirardelli mausoleum
Ghirardelli mausoleum in Mountain View Cemetery

The mausoleum is pretty big, covered with white marble and topped with a weeping woman statue. No chocolate imagery, but the name “Ghirardelli” appears above the door. Above that is a Masonic symbol which is part of the story of why the mausoleum is where it is.

It seems that Domenico quit being a Catholic after his granddaughter was refused last rites by a priest because maybe the Ghirardellis were behind on their tithing. So Domenico quit the church, forbade his family from attending services, built this new mausoleum, AND stole his family members’ bodies from neighboring St. Mary Catholic Cemetery and had them reinterred here. On top of all that, the Catholic Church opposes Freemasonry so having that symbol front and center on the mausoleum was a clear dis to the Church.

The whole thing is a little extra and fits with the you-can’t-overlook-Ghirardelli-chocolate culture. So don’t miss this spot either. Along with the chocolate connection and the crazy story, the view from the mausoleum is very nice looking down over the cemetery with the East Bay hills visible in the distance.

Ghirardellis view
Ghirardelli’s view from the crypt

On the quiet side

Etienne Guittard’s situation is a totally different story. No drama, no mausoleum. The only commonalities between Ghirardelli and him seem to be chocolate and Masonic symbols at their burials sites. But I can’t find any scuttlebutt about Guittard.

In fact I couldn’t even find his grave, so I can’t confess to any definitive knowledge of his final resting place. Or if the Masonic symbol on his tombstone was another FU to the Catholic Church or something more benign. I do know he is buried at Woodlawn Memorial Park in Colma. And I have a pic of his tombstone from

Etienne Guittard tombstone
Etienne Guittard’s understated tombstone

While attending a funeral service nearby Cacaopod and I tried to find the spot to pay our respects and take a picture but the cemetery’s office was closed that day and even with the photo and coordinates we couldn’t find it. Cemeteries have named streets, even neighborhoods, now if they could just put little house numbers on the graves we would be in business.

I do know that Guittard was originally buried in SF in their Masonic Cemetery near Golden Gate Park for a hot minute. He passed away in 1899 and 2 years later the remains at the Masonic Cemetery were moved to Woodlawn. Most cemeteries in SF were relocated to Colma around that time because SF needed the room for the living. In the case of the Masonic Cemetery location, it is now the University of San Francisco.

After moving all the cemeteries out of SF to Colma, Colma became the place to rest in peace for San Franciscans to this day. It was just a matter of time before I got to know Colma.

Colma is an interesting place if you aren’t bothered by ghosts — lots of cemeteries (and car dealerships for some reason). Local celebrities buried in Colma include William Randolph Hearst, Levi Strauss, Emperor Norton, Lillie Hitchcock Coit, and for some reason Wyatt Earp who I didn’t know had an SF connection. It’s no Père-Lachaise, but you could make a day of it visiting famous people’s gravesites. Maybe go Victorian and bring a picnic lunch along.

One of the things I like about Colma is that almost all of the cemeteries are next to each other. There’s even a bus line that goes from the Colma BART station along the street — very convenient for transit-first people. So even though I was unable to find Guittard’s resting place this time, I can try again.

Family & eternal neighbors

Guittard family plot
Guittard family plot

Bonus! Guittard’s son and grandson who inherited the business and ran the company in turn are buried a little further down the road at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery.

Etienne’s son, Horace C. Guittard, and grandson, Horace A. Guittard, are buried in a family plot along with Horace C.’s wife, Horace A.’s sibling, and other family members. I haven’t visited this cemetery yet but I have a reference photo (again I thank FindAGrave for the pic). Another future adventure for the list.

Like with Etienne, I don’t know much about his son Horace C. beyond his taking over the presidency of Guittard Chocolate from his father. But I do have one story about the grandson, no grave robbing but maybe a secret society connection.

Quasi-local See’s Candies uses Guittard Chocolate in their treats and has since the 1950’s. (While See’s has a factory here it originated in LA so it’s not a native SFBA chocolate company.) The reason See’s uses Guittard is grandson Horace A. was classmates (and maybe frat brothers?) at Stanford University with Laurance See, the son of See’s founder Charles See. When Horace A. and Laurance took over their family businesses they made a partnership of Guittard’s supplying the couverture that See’s uses in its candies — a partnership that outlived the original parties and has survived until today.

A tale of 2 crypts

I don’t know if Domenico and Etienne ever met, though it seems likely since they were in the same business at the same time in the same city.

I do know that they seem very different from each other, both in their businesses —

Ghirardelli had to file for bankruptcy at one point when his son-in-law embezzled from the company, ran away, and disappeared because of course. They could make an opera about his life, it’s so dramatic. Etienne probably just read about it in his morning newspaper before heading off to work everyday in his thriving chocolate, coffee, tea, and spice shop —

And in their internments —

Ghirardelli has the big mausoleum with the million dollar view. Guittard has a very staid, dignified tombstone in a sunny plot amid a field of similar markers, a hiding-in-plain-sight site.

And someday I am going to find it.

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Published April 3, 2023