By Brandi Hunter, High Ground News
Dubbed a “real life Willy Wonka” by Forbes Magazine and the “King of Chocolate” by Black Enterprise, Memphis-based chocolatier Phillip Ashley Rix has spent six years building his empire. Now after a six-month hiatus to relocate, renovate and regrouping, Phillip Ashley Chocolates is up and running again in Madison Heights.
In the past, Rix has created custom chocolates for global organizations like FedEx and Nike and celebrities including Serena Williams. He’s also served as official chocolatier for awards shows including the 2016 Grammy Awards and 2017 Emmy Awards Governors Ball.
Rix’s chocolates are known for their bold, swirling visual aesthetics and non-traditional flavor combinations. He doesn’t mind being likened to Wonka. He grew up watching the 1971 “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.”
“He was able to put a full meal in a stick of gum. I wanted to do the same thing with chocolate,” said Rix.
Phillip Ashley Chocolates reopened April 19 with a staff of eight at 1200 Madison Avenue. The new location has 2,200-square-feet for retail and production, double that of the former location in Cooper Young. The retail cafe is open Tuesday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.
Rix said a larger space for production, visibility, accessibility and ample parking were key factors in choosing the Madison Avenue location.
“(It’s) a place where people could get to us easier, and then people that may not even know we exist, they can see us,” he said.
Rix is using the new location as a way to reimagine the customer experience and foster community by supporting other local small businesses.
In addition to 24 signature Phillip Ashley Chocolate flavors available daily, customers can purchase gelato by the pint from Sweet Magnolia Gelato Company, a signature popcorn from Pop’s Kernel or cinnamon rolls by Beneva Mayweather Foods topped with frosting created by Rix. Beverages, coffee, paninis and chicken salad are available for lunch through collaborations with other local businesses. The art decorating the cafe walls is also made by local artists, with pieces rotating regularly and available for purchase.
CUSTOM CLIENT CRAVINGS
Rix is known for his unique and sometimes odd pairings. He’s infused his chocolates with hundreds of radical flavors since the company’s initial launch in 2013, including bleu cheese, fig jam, goat cheese and barbecue sauce.
“If it goes in a glass or on a plate, we can figure out a way to put it into chocolate,” he said.
He’s also famed for his ability to create custom flavors for big name clients. He crafted a 23-karat gold salted caramel pecan praline for the 2016 Grammy Awards and designed 10 new flavors for the 2017 Emmy Awards Governors Ball.
Rix create three branded chocolates — caramel popcorn, strawberry hot sauce and soy sauce caramel — for ServiceMaster representing their first headquarters in Illinois, current headquarters in Memphis and offices in the Philippines. The company uses the chocolates in trainings to tell the story of ServiceMaster. In a nod to Wonka, in October 2018, a ServiceMaster employee won a golden ticket to tour the previous location in Cooper Young and create her own signature flavor.
Rix also works with individuals looking for unique gifts.
Lucresha Wilson, a self-described “chocoholic,” frequents Phillip Ashley Chocolates a few times a month.
“It is a surprise in your mouth, and it is so delicious,” she said. “It’s a visual storytelling, and I thoroughly enjoy that.”
FROM CORPORATE SALES TO CHOCOLATE DESIGN
The culinary artist didn’t plan to make a living crafting one-of-a-kind chocolates.
Rix graduated from Bartlett High School in 1997 and attended Middle Tennessee State University to study chemistry. His plan was to enter the medical field, but he landed in corporate sales for companies including FedEx, UPS and Apple. After 12 years, a fateful night and a vivid dream changed his life. He quite literally awoke with a new purpose.
“I was like, ‘OK, I want to make chocolate,’” he said.
Rix said he began learning the rules of chocolate-making in order to break them. His DIY curriculum included researching herbs and spices, fruits and vegetables, the human palate and chemical reactions. Hands-on experiments included buying a compressor on eBay to practice airbrush painting on paper plates.
“Two, three years of reading, researching to find that information from wherever I could, just studying food,” he said of he experience. “Basically, educating myself to become a chef.”
A sandwich board entices commuters on Madison Avenue to step inside Phillip Ashley Chocolates at Madison and North Bellevue. (Brandi Hunter)
LUXURY DESSERT MASTERCLASS
Rix is now planning to step beyond Memphis’ city limits with a second retail location in Lakeland, Tennessee in northeast Shelby County. The store will be located in The Lake District, an upscale urban village currently under development, alongside luxury retailers, residences, restaurants, hotels and office space.
In the meantime, the company is updating offerings for the current location and online shop.
Based on customer feedback and the success of his “A Taste of Memphis” 12-piece box collection, Rix is designing a new “A Taste of New Orleans” collection and exclusive flavors for a monthly subscription box.
Rix also wants to give back to the community that’s supported him.
In fall, the Madison Avenue cafe will host all-ages chocolate-making classes, and Rix hopes he can inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs and culinary craftspeople with summer internships for students interested in retail, marketing and culinary production.