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Roast of the Town

Josiah and Meredith Davis share a glass of wine during the construction phase of Venture. They expanded the lower level of the building — sawing through walls and bringing in a small bulldozer to dig out the crawl space to create the wine cellar and bar area. Photo submitted.

By Jan Todd

Josiah Davis knows beans. He and his wife, Meredith, opened Local Lion roastery and coffee
shop in Boone in 2012, and Venture Chocolate and Wine shop on King Street in 2022.
Local Lion, located at 791 Blowing Rock Road near the Appalachian State University campus,
offers small batch craft coffee, roasted daily in the shop. Beverages from the full espresso bar
are complemented by scratch made donuts, prepared in-house every morning using an award
winning recipe from the 1930s.

The chocolate lounge on the street level of Venture contains a display of bonbons and confections, an espresso bar and a seating area. Photo by Jan Todd

Downtown at Venture, the aromas are different but just as tantalizing. Chocolate is made onsite, beginning with cacao beans from all over the world. On the street level, display cases filled with hand-crafted bon bons and other confections tempt customers to try treats made by the shop’s chocolatiers. Sipping chocolate, coffee and cappuccino are perfect accompaniments available from the espresso bar.

Whether sourcing coffee beans or cacao beans, Josiah said they consider the farmers.

“We want to know who we’re getting our beans from, their farming techniques and practices,” he said. “Our products are special, and it is important that we know exactly where the ingredients come from.”

The same selection principles apply when stocking the wine bar — a surprisingly large space on the lower level of Venture.

“Customers are always surprised when they go downstairs,” Josiah said. “The street facing of the shop isn’t very long, but the basement level stretches under the whole building.”

The wine bar offers ample seating for patrons to enjoy bottles or by-the-glass offerings
carefully selected by Josiah and Meredith — wine enthusiasts who have earned their
sommelier certificates.

“We don’t carry mass market wines,” Josiah said. “We buy from winemakers who work with the
crop they have that year and make the best wine possible from the elements produced.”
In addition to fine wines, Venture’s menu features a robust whiskey selection, which pairs well
with the charcuterie, chocolates and cheeses.

A foundation of quality products and excellent customer service is the secret of his business
success, Josiah said. The Local Lion has been voted “Best of Boone” for coffee and donuts
several times and was awarded Business of the Year by the Boone Area Chamber of
Commerce in 2020.

A Serendipitous Beginning

While Josiah has achieved success in his local businesses, it was never a path he visualized
when he was younger.

He was born in Boone in 1982, the oldest of five children. His parents, David and Freida Davis, were App State graduates and educators. After graduating from Watauga High School, Josiah
was eager for adventure, and spent a year in Alaska working on a fishing boat.

Coffee is roasted daily on-site at The Local Lion, ensuring fresh product — and tempting aromas. Photo by Jan Todd

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do at all, and I had a fantastic time in Alaska,” he said. “I learned to work hard and enjoyed seeing a little more of the world.”

When Josiah returned to Boone, he attended Caldwell Community College and then transferred to App State, earning degrees in philosophy and religion and in history. He stopped in the campus coffee shop one day and met his future wife Meredith, an anthropology major
who was the assistant manager at the shop.

Meredith graduated a couple of years before Josiah and was on her way to Africa to work for six months. “I proposed to her the day she left, hoping she’d come back,” Josiah said.

Venture offers a large selection of wines by the glass or sale by bottle, plus an extensive selection of whiskey. Photo by Jan Todd

Meredith did return, and after they married, the two worked as resident counselors and life coaches at the Crossnore School & Children’s Home.

“We were both mission-minded, and I thought we’d end up out of the country serving in mission work,” Josiah shared. “We went to Tibet a couple of times and had the opportunity to move there in 2008 to run a café in a Jewish community.”

Cozy chairs, tables and booths next to the wine cellar provide a relaxing atmosphere for patrons to enjoy wine, whiskey, coffee and cocktails, charcuterie and desserts.
Photo by Jan Todd

Fate intervened. China hosted the Olympics in 2008 and Tibetans took advantage of the world stage to hold protests and demonstrations about the Chinese government’s treatment of
Tibetans. In response, China tightened security and cancelled visas to Tibet — putting the kibosh on the Davis’s plans.

They returned to work at Crossnore, and Josiah opened a side business cleaning fire hoods at restaurants.

Josiah Davis believes quality products and excellent customer service are the foundation for business success. He and his wife are wine aficionados and select the wines
and beverages available for sale at Venture. Photo submitted

“It was a tough job, a dirty job,” he recalled. “I’d go out in the middle of the night to pressure wash grease off the hoods. Not many people wanted to do that kind of work, especially in the
middle of winter when it was snowing and the roads were bad. I served most of the restaurants in Boone.”

In 2011, the couple did some “soul searching,” Josiah said. “We had a daughter, and living onsite at Crossnore was becoming difficult with a toddler. Our life plan wasn’t working out.”

They decided to explore opening their own business and discussed a coffee shop. “I’d been drinking coffee since I was eight years old and I loved it. Meredith knew a bit about the business from her college job. We decided to just go for it,” Josiah said.

They were driving down Blowing Rock Road and passed TCBY, a frozen yogurt shop that had been in business his “whole life,” Josiah said. “Meredith mentioned if it ever closed, it would be
the perfect place for a coffee shop.”

The very next time they drove by the location, there was a sign announcing the closure of TCBY and an advertisement for the lease. “We couldn’t believe it, but still didn’t call the owner right away, because we didn’t think we could afford it,” Josiah recalled.

Chocolate treats available for sale at Venture, which may be consumed on site or boxed for gifts. Photo by Jan Todd.

Meanwhile, Josiah was seeking direction about his future plans. “I took 21 days of intense prayer and deep reflection about what we should do. During that time, I had a dream about a man who walked up to me and poked me in the chest. ‘Four months from now an unexpected door will open in your life,’ the man told me. I woke up and wrote down the date,” Josiah shared.

Ashley Lindemulder makes chocolate in the open kitchen, downstairs at Venture. Photo by Jan Todd.

Four months later to the day, Josiah and Meredith were picking up pizza at Smoky Mountain Bakers in Roan Mountain.

“The owner there struck up a conversation with me about buying his donut equipment,” Josiah said. “He pulled out a book entitled ‘Chefs of California’ and flipped to a three-page spread about himself. He had won gold medals for his donuts at the Harvest Fair in Sonoma. He’d retired in Roan Mountain and was making breads in a brick oven.”

Meredith and Josiah Davis opened opened Local Lion roastery and coffee shop in Boone in 2012, and Venture Chocolate and Wine shop on King Street in 2022. They are pictured in the wine bar at Venture. Photo submitted

Josiah explained to the man he wasn’t yet in business and did not have a loan secured.
Meredith then pulled him aside and reminded him about the dream. “It has been four months
and I don’t see any other doors opening,” Meredith told Josiah. “I think we should do this.”

They made arrangements to purchase the equipment, and the baker shared his recipe and
taught Josiah and Meredith to make the donuts.

Building a Business,
Building Community

The couple secured the former TCBY building and opened up their business on a shoestring

Chocolate treats available for sale at Venture, which may be consumed on site or boxed for gifts. Photo by Jan Todd.

“We didn’t have enough money, but the community came in and helped us so much. We bought used equipment, worked long hours and slept in the shop. People saw a young family trying to start something and contractors were generous with us. We had lots of help from family and friends and people we didn’t even know,” Josiah said.

Downstairs at Venture is the chocolate making station and open kitchen, where the staff transforms the raw cacao beans into bars, bon bons and other
confections. The chocolate is also the star of the show in their house-made desserts — including cheesecakes, tortes, homemade ice creams and crème brulee. Photo by Jan Todd

After working all day at Local Lion, Josiah continued to clean fire hoods at night. “It was rough those first years,” he recalled. When the opportunity arose, he sold his hood cleaning business. The highlight of owning Local Lion was the discovery of community, Josiah said.

“People come in day after day and we get to know them. It has been a beautiful experience. Seeing people as they start their day, serving them. It is joyful.”

A few years after opening, Josiah again began reflecting on his life journey. “We had once
desired to go to the mountains of the world and do mission work, and here we were in the
coffee and donut business. How had that happened? I determined I wanted to be in business in such a way that was more than just profit and loss. I wanted to help others,” he said.

Venture purchases the finest dried cacao beans from vendors all over the world, then hand crafts bars and confections for sale in the shop. Photo by Jan Todd

Josiah began developing a plan to encourage and support others, sharing all he had learned in his business. He envisioned a space with a mix of retail space and a conference room where he could encourage entrepreneurship and team building.

With his interest in chocolate — having overlap with coffee in growing regions and production methods — and in wine, the concept for Venture was born.

Jeshua Jolly is both a chocolate maker and a chocolatier. While many chocolate shops feature chocolatiers who source and blend prepared chocolate to make their own confections, Jeshua and his staff begin with the raw bean and make their own chocolate. He is pictured here with the roasting barrel, used in the first step of making chocolate. Photo by Jan Todd

The Greene & Wilcox building in downtown Boone — which once housed a barber shop and a music store frequented by Doc Watson — had space available and the owner approached Josiah about a second location for Local Lion. Instead, Josiah proposed the chocolate and wine shop.

He reached out to Jeshua Jolly, a friend and former employee at Local Lion. While a college student at App State, Jeshua served as head baker at the Lion from 2014-2016.

Josiah made Jeshua a sweet proposition. “He said he’d send me to chocolatier school where I could learn the trade, and we could start the business together,” Jeshua said.

Jeshua enrolled in Escole Chocolat professional School of Chocolate Arts, an online program based out of Canada. He learned the steps to make chocolate from dried cocoa beans, professional production skills, and decoration techniques.

After roasting and separating the cacao beans from the husks, Joshua places the “nibs” — clean pieces of the beans — into the melanger, which spins and
liquifies the chocolate in a process that takes about 48 hours. Photo by Jan Todd

“We bought and set up equipment in my basement, and I had my own little chocolate lab,” Jeshua said. “My family and friends ate a lot of chocolate during that time.”

They began construction on the shop downtown and opened in early summer 2022.

“The shop became much bigger than we imagined,” Josiah said. “We expanded the lower level, sawing through walls and bringing in a small bulldozer to dig out the crawl space to create the wine cellar and bar area. It was a massive project.”

They lanched the business without a lot of fanfare.

“Basically, we opened the doors just to see what would happen,” Josiah said. “We were really busy through December, then just took a breath after the new year started. Business has been steady. We do most of our business in the evenings, both in the chocolate lounge upstairs and in the wine bar downstairs.”

Jeshua manages the day-to-day chocolate “bean to bar” operations, transforming bags of cacao beans into bon bons, chocolate bars and other sweet treats. Josiah and Meredith split their time between the Local Lion and Venture.

Ashley Lindemulder uses the tempering machine as the final step in chocolate making, prior to pouring in molds for bonbons, bars and other confections. Photo by Jan Todd

A conference room and meeting space is available for rent at Venture. The downstairs area may also be reserved for private events.

“We hosted a chocolate enrichment for a Mothers Morning Out group recently, where we demonstrated how to make rolled truffles on a stovetop,” Jeshua said. “We can set up grazing tables with cheese and dessert boards for wedding receptions, holiday parties and corporate events in the space as well.”

Venture, located at 605 West King Street, opens at 10am Monday – Saturday and 11am on Sunday. The wine bar menu includes small bites, charcuterie and decadent desserts.

How a Bean Becomes a Bar

Venture sources cacao beans from around the world, including origins such as Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Uganda and Haiti. The dried beans are roasted in small batches at Venture, for about 50 minutes per batch.

“The chocolate develops its flavors during the roasting process,” said Jeshua Jolly, chocolate maker and chocolatier at Venture and partner in the business.

In a perfect world, liquid chocolate from the melanger would go directly into the tempering machine, Jeshua said. Sometimes the chocolate making staff is
busy with other tasks, though, and the chocolate cools and hardens. They then need to chop it into small bits prior to tempering. Photo by Jan Todd

After roasting, he puts the beans into a cracker and winnower which removes the husks from the nibs — crumbled bits of the beans. Next, Jeshua places the nibs into a melanger, which spins the chocolate for about 48 hours and converts it into liquid. Raw organic sugar is added during this process.

In a “perfect world,” Jeshua said he transfers the liquid chocolate into the tempering machine before it cools. However, if he is in the middle of another process, the chocolate solidifies and he has to chop it into little pieces before tempering. The tempering machine melts the chocolate and stabilizes it for making bonbons and bars.

Quality tempered chocolate has a smooth and glossy finish and “snaps” when broken, Jeshua said. “It won’t melt in your hand, but will melt in your mouth,” he added.

They use some of the tempered chocolate for bars — poured into molds until cooled and hardened.

To make bonbons, the chocolatiers pour the tempered chocolate into molds to make the shells, then fill the shells with ganache — a whipped filling of chocolate and cream, with optional natural flavorings added — then cap the bonbon with another thin layer of chocolate.

The chocolatier decorates each bonbon with finishing touches.