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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Calling All Chocoholics

Family Life: How did Sonoma Chocolatiers and teahouse start?

David Gambill: I worked in international environmental policy prior to being a chocolatier. When I met my wife, Susan, in 1998, I had been making chocolates for family and friends for 20 years. About a year after we married, we visited a very famous teashop in Paris—Susan’s a tea nut—and had a truffle made with her favorite tea, Darjeeling. We walked out agreeing, “We can do that.” I said, “I can make the truffles and you can handle the tea.” Fast forward to 2007. Our son was 3 years old, and we decided we did not want to raise him in Washington, DC, where we lived. So we moved out here and brought with us a business plan for an organic chocolate shop and teahouse. Sonoma Chocolatiers opened its doors in September of 2008. We’ve won the Bohemian’s Best Chocolatier in Sonoma County award for 12 years.

FL: What have been your biggest challenges in raising a family and running a business?

DG: Well, first there was the global financial crisis of 2008. But then, in 2010, when our son was 6, my wife, a nationally recognized psychotherapist, was diagnosed with cancer and almost died. Two years later, the cancer treatment triggered Alzheimer’s. She is now in the severe stages of that disease. I can’t leave her alone very much so she’s here with me at the shop. Balancing the needs of my son, my wife, the business, and myself has been enormously challenging. My son has often gotten the short shrift. But he’s now 16 and is taking charge of his life. He’s really smart and kind, and wants to be a surgeon, so he’s taking biology at Orchard View, where he’s thriving academically. 

FL: How has the pandemic affected your business?

DG: The pandemic has gutted the business. For the first three months we were only making 10–30 percent of what we’d made pre-pandemic. Now we are still only making about 30–40 percent of what we were making pre-pandemic. So little business means I’ve only been able to rehire two staff to work one day a week, so I can take a break. We also can’t give out samples—people like to taste before they buy, so that cuts our sales even more.

FL: How can locals support your business? Can they come into the shop?

DG: Because my wife has an immune deficiency—if she catches COVID-19, she’ll die—I haven’t yet let customers into the shop. I’m trying to find someone to care for her in our home, since we must open for the holidays. But for now customers can make purchases at the front door. Customers can also order chocolates and tea online at It would be an incredible boon for us to get more orders from businesses for holiday gifts to clients and staff. And we offer gift certificates.

FL: What are some of your best-selling chocolates?

DG: We have more than 130 flavors of truffles and caramels, and everything (except the booze in some chocolates) is organic. Right now we’re bringing out our holiday chocolates, such as our Pumpkin Pie Caramel, and our Holiday-Spiced Truffle, which tastes as good as good it looks. Other standouts include Winter Orange, a truffle flavored with orange zest, cloves, and other spices; and Magi’s Gifts, a golden truffle-star infused with frankincense and myrrh. I just created a Hot Buttered Rum Caramel, and we will bring out our Cherry Kirsch Truffle soon. This year I’ve made Toffee Rapture, an orange-honey-pistachio toffee that we have had a hard time keeping in stock. We also bring out our popular Zinfandel Peanut Brittle at the holidays. And we make a vegan Chocolate and Salted Caramel Torte and other vegan desserts for the Cozy Plum, a vegan restaurant in Santa Rosa.

FL: Do you have special Chanukah chocolates?

DG: Yes. We make a set of eight classic Chanukah items, such as a menorah and dreidel, out of solid chocolate. For Christmas, we make a chocolate Yule log, stuffed with chocolate Santa heads, caramels, and marzipan dipped in chocolate.

FL: We’ve heard you make gluten-free muffins, too.

DG: Oh, yes, our gluten-free muffins are very popular. Our Rosemary Goat Cheese with Caramelized Onions is our main savory muffin. Our sweet muffins include Black Coconut Mango and Chocolate Raspberry.

FL: What are some of your drinks?

DG: We have the second largest collection of organic teas from San Francisco to Seattle. We make a mean lavender matcha latte, and our London Fog is to die for. My favorite is our thick, European-style sipping chocolate. 

Sonoma Chocolatiers is located at 6988 McKinley St., Sebastopol (beside Whole Foods). Find out more at