Terrific news for the sweet-toothed among us: Ashton Woodward, the baking wizard behind Arkansas Fresh Bakery, plans to start an Arkansas Fresh chocolate line featuring handmade traditional Belgian-style chocolates. Foodies know Woodward as the man behind the best breads and buns in town, featured at restaurants like Big Orange, Boscos, The Pantry, 1620 Savoy and many others. Now he’s ready to apply his artisinal care to chocolate.
“I worked for a couple years in Chicago doing handmade bonbons,” Woodward said. “Nobody [locally] has come close to the quality of work that I learned in Chicago and that I intend to replicate. It’s a big deal for the bakery because it’s an expansion of an already good product line.”
One likely project is a partnership with Rock Town Distillery, with a line of chocolates using its liquors. “Some of my favorite pieces I learned to bake in Chicago use liquor, and I’m drawing a lot of inspiration from traditional cocktails,” Woodward said. Rock Town might sell the chocolates through their own retail space and might also look to distribute through liquor stores they sell to. The symbiotic relationship for the two local companies wouldn’t just be cross-promotion — it would also give Woodward a chance to affordably use high-quality liquors, a rare luxury for a chocolatier.
In addition to that partnership, Woodward is hoping to release a larger Arkansas Fresh chocolate line — eventually he’d like to offer a half-pound box of assorted chocolates. In addition to the liquor-filled chocolates, Woodward said he plans to develop a large variety in the Belgian style. “They use a lot of really bold flavors, a lot of nut flavors,” he said. “But anything that goes with chocolate is fair game. We did a chili pepper and cinnamon piece in Chicago. I would of course draw from as many local inspirations as possible — like this deal with Rock Town, that’s a great starting point.”
Woodward is hoping to have both his own line and the Rock Town line ready by the holiday season. Like the bakery, he’d probably start selling the chocolates wholesale but with an eye toward retail sales down the road. The chocolate shop will be in the same space as his bakery in Bryant, and Woodward envisions eventually selling both fresh bread and chocolates retail in the front of the shop.
Can’t wait! In the mean time, what about those of us looking to get ahold of Woodward’s baked goods directly? Basically, as detailed in our cover story on Woodward a year ago, if you’ve bitten into some transformatively delicious bread in a restaurant in Arkansas, there’s a good chance it came from Arkansas Fresh. Naturally, fans of, say, Woodward’s brioche-challah buns want them at home too. Arkansas Fresh was selling retail out of Argenta Market but now that they’re closed, Arkansas Fresh addicts will have to rely on the Argenta Farmers Market for their fix.
On that front, one more piece of good news: plans are in the works for a Farmers Market partnership with Jonathan Wilkins, who until last summer was making transcendent bar food (featuring Arkansas Fresh buns) at Whitewater Tavern. Wilkins, who has been putting in some time at the bakery, will likely be contributing to the Arkansas Fresh farmers market stall. “He brings a lot of skills to the table,” Woodward said. Details are still being hammered out — Wilkins might offer pickles or other cottage-industry prepared foods, farm-raised eggs, or perhaps hot food eventually.