By Lori Moffatt
Flamboyant characters like former Brit Ken Wilkinson, who arrived in the sleepy Brazos Valley town of Calvert a few years ago to build a world-class chocolate shop, tend to start tongues wagging.
“The first time I saw Ken, waving his arms up and down Main Street, well, I didn’t know what to think,” says Calvert businesswoman Jody Powers, whose bakery, Zamykal Kolaches, opened on Main a few years ago. “He was dressed immaculately, very ‘from the city.’ I had no idea what he was planning to do.”
Nor did Wilkinson, exactly. He just knew that he wanted to open a chocolate boutique, using recipes and techniques he had learned in Europe, and that his present hometown of Houston wouldn’t support the scenario he envisioned. Real estate cost too much, for one, but he also thought that city-dwellers might be too distracted to linger and wax rhapsodic over the textural experience of an enrobed key-lime ganache or the painterly dusting of raspberry essence on a perfectly spherical truffle. He wanted to greet passersby with a “Hulluh, mates! Do you like anisette, by chance?” and invite them in for a taste and a theatrical conversation embellished with tales of cooking for royalty, kitchen alchemy in Switzerland, and culinary adventures in the Caribbean.
So when Wilkinson came across a deteriorating 1874 bank building along Main Street in Calvert, a Victorian town that boasts one of the largest historic districts in the United States, his entrepreneurial wheels started spinning. Calvert, he soon learned, enjoyed great prosperity in the 1870s as a rail link for goods headed to and from Galveston. By the 1950s, though, when the area’s cotton plantations were mechanized and work grew scarce, the town settled into a rhythm of languor. Many of Main Street’s historic buildings lay vacant. Could he be the galvanizing force in a downtown revitalization?
Wilkinson, a self-described “exacting bastard with a low tolerance for compromise,” bought the building, restored it, and opened CocoaModa.
“I see people all the time walking around with their little CocoaModa bags,” says Jody Powers. “And it’s such a delight. Have I seen my own business pick up? Absolutely. Ken and I both came to town with the idea that Calvert will be back on the map once people start restoring these buildings and attracting visitors again. Won’t Calvert be something then?”
Scoops for You
Politics aside, when the late President Ronald Reagan decreed the month of July as “National Ice Cream Month” in 1984, few people waffled whether it was a designation worth celebrating.
From the July 2009 issue.