When it comes to our retailers, North Beach has always been hyperlocal. And although the neighborhood doesn’t boast as many specialty shops as it once did, residents still tend to shop locally as much as they can. With our century-old bakeries, authentic Italian delis and genre-defying boutiques, who can really blame them?

One place that deserves special mention is Z. Cioccolato, Mike Zwiefelhofer’s candy emporium and fudge factory on Columbus Avenue. The shop sits just off the five points where Green, Stockton and Columbus come together–the sweet spot, you might say. They produce a lot of fudge and other candy goodness in the shop, so the front door always exudes a pleasing chocolatey aroma that envelops the corner, coaxing passersby inside.

chocolate making at joecontent.net

Faced with new restrictions, Z. Cioccolato’s popular chocolate making classes pivoted online. | Photo: Mike Zwiefelhofer

Once you’re in the shop, if you’ve got any kind of sweet tooth, it’s typically all over. In addition to a variety of house-made candy, the cavernous shop offers a huge selection of salt water taffy, and the widest variety of old school candy products that I’ve ever seen in one place. I’m talking about obscure stuff, things that I haven’t seen in years: Zotz, Chick-O-Sticks, Candy Cigarettes, you name it. Is there a coveted candy that you haven’t seen since your childhood? Chances are, Z. Cioccolato has it in stock.

And we haven’t even gotten to the fudge. Let me begin by saying that I’ve never really liked fudge very much. I’ve always loved chocolate, but the fudge I’ve had in the past was always a little too sweet, and just not to my liking. That changed when a friend in the neighborhood gave me a couple of packages of Mike Zwiefelhofer’s fudge, for my birthday I believe.

Z. Cioccolato’s delicious Guinness fudge, complete with tiny pints of stout. | Photo: Mike Zwiefelhofer

It was a nice gesture, but at first I was chagrined, and figured I would regift it to someone more appreciative. Then I tried it. And trust me: this fudge is unlike anything you’ve had before. These guys win awards for this stuff, and for damn good reason. The peanut butter and dark chocolate versions are particularly stellar, and a must-try for chocolate devotees. Because of Z. Cioccolato, I’m now a fudge person.

Earlier this week, Zwiefelhofer was nice enough to talk with me about his unique business, and our conversation is recounted below.

Joe Bonadio: Things have changed an awful lot over the last five months. Can you tell us how these changes have affected your business?

Mike Zwiefelhofer: Well, Z. Cioccolato depends on both tourists and locals. And right now, because we’re getting very few tourists, our business is basically cut in half. We’re down about 50 percent over last year at the same time.

JB: But you do a fair amount of delivery business?

MZ: Yes. So although the shop is way down, our delivery apps, like DoorDash, Grubhub, and Uber Eats—those are all up significantly. And our online orders are all also up. That helps balance the losses somewhat. 

The skyline view from North Beach is only one of the neighborhood’s many charms. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

JB: That’s good to hear. I understand like a lot of local businesses, you’ve been forced to take your game online.

MZ: Absolutely. One of the things we’ve done well with over the last few years is chocolate making classes. We do them for team building, and we get a lot of the companies downtown showing up.

And we really won’t be able to do in-person chocolate classes again until restaurants are given the green light on indoor dining. That’s when it will be safe for us to start again. So we have pivoted to doing virtual chocolate making classes via Zoom.

This has some really great advantages, including the fact that you can do it from anywhere. So we’ve already had a Zoom class with a group that signed up all the way from Pennsylvania! It’s been a great way for families to do distant family gatherings, and for companies with remote teams, that can now do a team event right from their kitchen.

JB: So this has really been embraced, then?

MZ: So far, so good!

JB: Great. Now, chocolate making is a very tactile experience. What are some of the challenges you faced in trying to bring it into the digital realm?

MZ: The biggest challenge by far is trying to teach participants how to temper chocolate at home. Tempering chocolate can be difficult, and it is very temperature-dependent.

JB: Temperamental?

MZ: Temperamental. Good one, Joe.

Most people don’t have a professional tempering machine, so they’re going to end up using a double boiler, or sometimes a microwave. And it can be tricky to get the chocolate to the perfect temperature for the making of chocolate candies.

chocolate making at joecontent.net

Just look at that thing: Z. Cioccolato’s fiercely photogenic orange fudge. | Photo: Mike Zwiefelhofer

JB: Retail businesses have suffered this year, that’s no secret. But in a few instances, there has been some silver lining. What are some of the things you’ve learned from this experience?

MZ: One thing I’ve learned is that even when times are good, it’s a good idea to explore as many different income streams as you can. Things like online delivery, and my chocolate classes––so that when something like this happens, you don’t have to scramble too much.

In the beginning, I didn’t think it was possible to move the classes online. I was worried about the tempering, and I had a hard time picturing how it all would work. But once it became clear we were really shut down, and there was no other way, we quickly figured it out.

JB: Are you surprised by how enthusiastically the classes have been received?

MZ: Totally. Another unique thing about my class is that I will ship a kit with all of the necessary supplies to each participant’s house. We use a lot of special supplies like chocolate molds and tongs and things like that. A lot of cooking classes give you a long list of things that you have to go shop for.

JB: That’s not easy to do right now.

MZ: No, it’s not. So we do it for you.

People shouldn’t have to run all over town, trying to find all of these ingredients and special tools. So I include all of it. The molds and the tongs they get to keep as a souvenir, and they can make chocolate again in the future.


Z. Cioccolato offers their Chocolate Making Classes seven days a week, and has discounted rates for qualified nonprofits. For more information, inquire with Mike at info@zcioccolato.com. Meanwhile, make sure to stop in soon to pick up something for your sweetie. See you on the street!


Z. Cioccolato
474 Columbus Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 395-9116

Open Everyday 11:00AM-7:00PM