Michael Orlando has opened Twenty-Four Blackbirds Chocolates at 428 E. Haley Street, near The Mill, in Santa Barbara. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

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Michael Orlando has worn many hats throughout his career. He worked as a marine biologist and an analytical chemist.

But he found his true love not under a microscope, but inside a vat of chocolate.

Orlando uses his scientific skills and curiosity to create hand-made, bean-to-bar chocolate.

For the past eight years, he has sold his chocolate to more than 400 “mom-and-pop” retailers in the U.S. About three weeks ago, Orlando opened Twenty-Four Blackbirds Chocolates at 428 E. Haley Street, near The Mill, in Santa Barbara.

“It’s unlike any chocolate you’ve ever eaten,” Orlando told Noozhawk from his retail shop.

Orlando only uses two ingredients — chocolate and sugar. He prepares the chocolate on-site, using proprietary equipment that he made specifically for his shop. He makes the chocolate in small batches, with no emulsifiers or additives.

Orlando said he opened the retail shop because the margins on wholesale weren’t nearly as strong as retail. He found his love for the food when he was working as an analytical chemist at UCSB monitoring machines, and had to kill a lot of time at his computer.

Curious by nature, he read a lot of articles and eventually became intrigued with the art of chocolate making.

“It’s a crazy process,” said the UC Santa Cruz grad. “Every step of the way you can change the outcome of the chocolate. Every aspect of chocolate making satisfies me.

Orlando said he’s excited about his retail shop because he believes Haley Street is going to blossom into a vibrant business district and he is at Ground Zero. The rents, he said, are a quarter of what they are on State Street, and eventually Haley Street business will connect State and Milpas streets.

For now, Orlando only makes dark chocolate, and it’s all free of nuts and soy. The store offers plenty of free samples on-site, and every day the chocolate-maker is experimenting.

“It’s all hands-on,” said Orlando, who grew up in San Jose. “It’s all troubleshooting. It’s all problem-solving. It’s a way for me to play with new ideas and flavors.”

Book Den Turns Page

Santa Barbara’s Book Den at 15 E. Anapamu Street is celebrating 85 years in existence, after four different owners in the store’s history.

Current owner Eric Kelley bought the store 1979. He said the secret to the store’s success has been a loyal following, along with the ability to adapt to changes in retail and bookselling.

Although Santa Barbara has lost larger bookstores such as Barnes & Noble and Borders Books & Music, Kelley said the Book Den has persevered.  

“The death of the book, and corresponding demise of book stores, has been predicted for decades,” Kelley said. “But authors keep writing. Publishers bring out as many new books as ever, and more independent bookstores are opening than closing. Readers still love the experience of browsing through a real bookstore, and the Book Den will remain open to meet the demand.”

Chick-fil-A Coming

Chick-fil-A plans to open March 15 at 605 E. Betteravia Road in Santa Maria. The store, run by local franchise owner Joey Hickox, will employ about 100 people.

The store will hold a community service Road Trip on March 14, where as many as 100 people will be taken on an interactive field trip, and possibly win one Chick-fil-A Sandwich Meal per week.

The Road Trip will take participants around the Santa Maria area on a chartered bus while spending approximately seven hours being engaged in activities that will include serving their community and giving back to local organizations, according to a news release.

After the tour, participants will receive a digital offer card loaded with a one-year supply of free Chick-fil-A meals — 52 meals with each consisting of a Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich, medium Waffle Potato Fries and a medium beverage.

Ulta Beauty Shining Bright​

Ulta Beauty will open inside the Bradley West Shopping Center, 755 E. Betteravia Road in Santa Maria, on Friday, March 16.

The first 100 guests on March 16, 17 and 18 will receive a “beauty treat” valued $5 and $100. Patrons can also choose 10 percent off their first salon appointment or first facial appointment.
 
“At Ulta Beauty we believe in giving guests beauty on their terms, and creating a world of exploration. In addition to products across all categories and price points, we also offer a full-service salon in every store featuring hair, skin and brow services,” said Casey Foxen, who manages all grand openings for Ulta Beauty. “Our Ulta Beauty experts are excited to bring the fun of beauty to Santa Maria beauty lovers.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Joshua Molina

Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com.