Boutique rooms served up with handmade artisan chocolates, freshly roasted coffee beans and pastries
Nestled in Beattyville, in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, is a unique bed-and-breakfast inn that combines boutique rooms served up with homemade artisan chocolates, European pastries and roasted coffees.
The Chocolat Inn & Café, a Kentucky Proud and Appalachian Proud business that is served by Jackson Energy Cooperative, operates year-round. While the inn books rooms daily, the cafe is open to the public Thursday through Saturday, opening on February 11 this year.
After traveling the world, Dustin Cornett returned to his birthplace with wife, Mai. Upon finding his grandmother Rosemary’s old candy recipes, he taught himself how to handcraft bean-to-bar chocolates in 2014 using ethically sourced cacao beans.
“We found my grandma’s old chocolate recipes, where she would make butter creams and vanilla creams—like box chocolates—and she would give them out to her family and friends at Christmas,” says Dustin.
When they returned to Kentucky, his grandmother was still alive but suffering from dementia. “We were trying to figure how to make the candies, but the recipes were pretty vague. Finally after talking to her and going through some of her stories, we got bits and pieces that were not on her recipes, and we figured out how to make her candies,” says Dustin.
The Cornetts rented a commercial kitchen for the day, working 24 hours straight to produce the candies. “They were amazing. We sold them in 2014 at the town festival, called the Wooly Worm Festival.”
Dustin says, “My grandma always used Hershey’s chocolate. Back in the day, she would just call up Hershey’s and they would send her 10-pound bars.”
Dustin instead bought a high-quality chocolate to coat them in, and while he thought the candies were great, he says he started thinking, “‘What if I could bring something of my own into her recipes.’ So, I studied how to make my own chocolate. That is how it all started,” Dustin says.
From there, he produced chocolate bars. At the time, they set up an LLC called Purple Lady Confections for the candy making business. “We named it that because my mom loved purple and people called her the Purple Lady. The Purple Lady Confections logo has little roses, as my grandmother’s name was Rosemary,” says Dustin.
“We couldn’t have just a gourmet chocolate shop in Beattyville,” as it was such a niche business, says Dustin. “So, Mai, learned how to bake. Over time, she got really good. She became our pastry chef, and I studied chocolate making and also learned how to roast coffee and make specialty coffees,” says Dustin.
Chocolat Inn boutique rooms
They later purchased and renovated a 1960s motel beginning in 2015, opening the Chocolat Inn & Café in 2017. They now have eight theme suites—New York, London, Rome, Paris, Mumbai, East and West Berlin (adjoining rooms), and Osaka, to honor his wife’s Japanese homeland.
“The rooms are based on places that I have traveled. When in Japan, I did a lot of traveling and soul searching,” says Dustin. “I did not anticipate being there long, but the first year my mother passed away, and I didn’t want to come home, so I traveled around the world.”
Dustin says it was Mai’s idea to return to Dustin’s home and make their life there. Now, along with caring for their first child, Sophia, who was born in February 2020, Mai serves up a variety of pastries, cheesecake and sandwiches while Dustin makes chocolate and roasts coffee beans for his specialty espressos, lattes, frappes and more for both guests and the public.
He says the cafe gets lot of local regulars for cold brew coffees and pastries and there is a lot of support from surrounding counties.
“People want experiences. The Chocolate Inn & Café is unique because it’s several things tied into one experience,” Dustin says. “You have a very gourmet experience with how we take care of ingredients—chocolate from the bean and roasted coffee from bean, all ethically sourced—and my wife makes pastry, so you get your own breakfast. It’s almost like you’re coming to your own little world.”
Dustin says, “People don’t expect to find a boutique inn with specialty coffee and chocolate in Beattyville. Sometimes they don’t believe it. When they see the rooms, they are like, ‘These rooms are amazing.’”
He says a lot of people come because of nearby Red River Gorge and Natural Bridge State Resort Park, which is about 20 minutes away.
“We also get people who just want to come stay in the rooms for anniversaries or to get away from kids,” says Dustin. “I think when they are searching, they see Red River Gorge and nature. They can go take a hike. There are a lot of outdoors things to do.”
In the evenings, guests can gather on the back patio with a fire pit, where the Cornetts like to socialize with their guests.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Cornetts were starting to build the business and had begun offering events for guests and the public.
“We had a murder-mystery theater event in October 2019. We’ve done coffee tasting classes, where you taste the different roasts,” says Dustin. “Moving forward we want to do chocolate and wine pairings, special dinners and classes for our guests.”
Several of the events are open to guests or the public, but events involving alcohol can only be for registered guests due to licensing.
Chocolate and coffee from the bean
“You’re making the chocolate from the actual cacao beans: you roast it, crack it, remove the shell, grind it, add ingredients and temper it. Other than farming it, you control the entire process.
“The beans are ethically sourced. That’s part of the bean-to-bar movement. It’s more than just a process. You’re buying these beans to help farmers to make it more sustainable, so they have a living wage. It’s higher than fair wage. You’re paying premiums for these beans so the farmers can make a living. How that changes things is that they will take care of the beans better and produce higher quality cacao. We are using specialty cacao, which is three times the price or more for the raw ingredients.”
Dustin says it’s similar for their speciality coffee. They use distributors that use the same practices. He is currently roasting five different origins of coffee, which is roasted light, medium or dark.
“I can roast coffee in about 15 minutes,” says Dustin. “The chocolate takes a week. I have a smaller amount of different origins but I’m not at a spot where I can produce a lot of it. It’s very small batch. Last week, I made 50 pounds of chocolate, to the point where it’s ready to mold and make bars. I plan to make another 50 pounds.”
Dustin explains that one batch of chocolate is seven pounds, and the biggest batch he can make is 25 pounds, as that is his biggest machine. He also has a few smaller machines.
“I make several batches at one time. I’ve made six different origins of seven pounds of each origin over the last several days. I can do 50 pounds of chocolate in a week,” he says.
Dustin says when you make bean-to-bar chocolate, the focus is on the pure bean and the bar. “They focus on two to three ingredients, maybe a little cocoa butter and sugar added. The focus is on the bar, such as Dark Chocolate Columbia or Dark Chocolate Ghana so you can really enjoy what the farmer is doing, so you can taste the fruit of their work.”
Dustin says, however, “Common people don’t find them as interesting, so we do inclusion bars—we’ll add coffee in our dark chocolate, or cayenne in a dark chocolate so you have a strong kick of spice. We also do a matcha, Japanese green tea.
“For the café, we can offer endless varieties of our chocolates, since we don’t have to make boxes (packaging). We will do strawberries, Oreos, and lavender, which we get from a local lady,” says Dustin. “I love to experiment.”
The Chocolate Inn & Café sells six different chocolate bars online: dark, milk, white, cayenne, coffee and matcha.
Roasted coffee and chocolates are available for purchase at the café, area retailers and online.
Chocolat Inn & Café
1165 Hwy 11 South
Beattyville, KY 41311
Reservations for the Chocolate Inn can be made online year-round, preferably 24 hours in advance.
The café is open Thursday–Friday, 7 a.m.–2 p.m., and Saturday 9 a.m.–2 p.m.
Check Facebook: Chocolat Inn & Café for their daily menu.