Their smiles may be hidden by face masks, but sisters Ali and Sarah Flanders are clearly happy. The reasons are many: community support for their new business Salt Rock Chocolate Company, which keeps beloved Chilmark Chocolate recipes alive; working together to figure out launching a new business in the time of Covid; and chocolate – making, eating and selling chocolate to delighted customers at the West Tisbury Farmers' Market.

Last year, when the owners of Chilmark Chocolates announced they would be closing their business, the Island wept and bought up stockpiles of the white boxes as the end approached. But luckily for us, a close relationship existed between the Flanders family and Mary Beth Grady and Allison Burger, the owners of Chilmark Chocolates who ran the unique Island business for 34 years. Ali, Sarah and their mother Joy Flanders lived nearby and were close friends with Allison and Mary Beth. Joy was instrumental in connecting individuals with disabilities to work at the chocolate kitchen and store. As teens, Ali and Sarah learned how to make chocolates from Mary Beth and Allison.

On the Kickstarter campaign, which last fall opened up a flow of encouraging financial support, Ali wrote, “Using the technique that was perfected over many years by our experienced mentors at Chilmark Chocolates, our process for making each piece involves tempering the solid chocolate, dipping or mixing ingredients, and cooling for a precise amount of time before we move it to the shelf for sale. This process of hand-making each individual chocolate allows the consumer to fully enjoy the fresh and luxurious taste, texture, and smell of each piece.”

Tempuring chocolate gives it that glossy sheen. Jeanna Shepard

The news that the “Flanders girls” would be continuing the tradition of fine chocolates made up-Island was encouraging to the broken-hearted chocolate lovers. The Kickstarter campaign yielded emotional words of support and $22,000 to outfit a chocolate kitchen and get the Salt Rock business rolling. Ali says they were taken aback by financial contributions from all over the country, but in fact, the new business not only rewarded financial supporters with boxes of chocolates to be shipped once their kitchen was set up, but also offered hope that the flow of truffles, mints, caramels and nutty bars would continue.

At the Wednesday and Saturday West Tisbury Farmers’ Market, now held at the Ag Hall on Panhandle Road in West Tisbury, some people show up with a single mission: to find the Salt Rock Chocolate booth and hope that they have some boxes left to sell. A better plan is to pre-order a selection of chocolates from their website. You will see photos and descriptions of the chocolates they make there, which include familiar favorites like chocolate-dipped glacéed apricots and cranberry clusters and new temptations like the Chilmark Fleur – a white chocolate square enlivened with candied ginger and floral notes (from a floral mix created by Curio Spice of Cambridge).

Hand-dipping is part of the craft. Jeanna Shepard

Locally sourced ingredients are the inspiration for many of their new chocolate pieces: Great Rock Bite – dark chocolate spiced with Ghost Island Farm’s hot paper lantern pepper; Chilmark Coffee Crunch – dark chocolate with Chilmark Coffee’s ground coffee; and Salt Rock Caramels, in milk and dark chocolate, with a flaky salt garnish from Duxbury Saltworks.

Recognizing how Salt Rock Chocolate has benefitted from community support, the sisters are determined to give back to the Island by keeping their prices affordable (as Chilmark Chocolates did in the past), maintaining a small environmental footprint, and prioritizing local products and companies. At present, the company only has two other people working with Ali and Sarah to keep up with the flow of orders. There is no storefront, and their chocolate kitchen in West Tisbury is still under construction.

Preorder dark and milk chocolates to pick up at the West Tisbury Farmers' Market. Jeanna Shepard

The Covid epidemic changed their plans several times: the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival was cancelled, as well as their opening at that venue, and another opening at the Beetlebung Farm stand was cancelled shortly after. They decided to ship chocolates out during May, and they fulfilled their Kickstarter gift distribution by mail.

They are now very happy to be at the market, working outside and with other Vineyard vendors for company. Watching the sisters in action, as they quickly and cheerfully keep the line moving at their booth, one can see that they are bringing their best talents and ideas to this enterprise. Both Ali and Sarah have explored other careers, off-Island and here, and their new business provides an outlet for their talents, including photography and business skills. For them, nothing could be sweeter than working together in a community they love, making fine chocolates and offering them to excited customers.

Ordering opens up on their website, at 9 a.m. on Monday for the Wednesday market, and on Thursday for the Saturday market. Once the kitchen’s limit has been met, the ordering is closed until the next market.

Emily Meegan lives in Chilmark and works at the West Tisbury Library.