High Class

Q & A With Audie Fulfer

by Lisa Talley | lisa@fresnoflyer.com

Pop culture, comics, realism, full-color renditions of your favorite childhood (or, let’s face it, adulthood) characters, Audie Fulfer of High Class Tattoo and Body Modification of Fresno has made it his business to bring them to life on your skin.

From The Maxx to Breaking Bad to Ghost Busters to Superman, Fulfer is no stranger to pop culture requests. Often tackling portraiture work of famous characters, he’s also nailed down fictional creatures, cartoons, and monsters born from films and graphic novels. An unabashedly self-proclaimed ‘nerd,’ it’s difficult to say who’s enjoying the tattoo more, Fulfer or his clients.

We had a chance to chit-chat with the Owner of High Class to get to know the man behind the explosively colorful tattoos bringing people to Fresno from all over the world.

Year you started tattooing:

I started tattooing around 2005-2006

Was it a linear path to tattooing or a surprising detour?

I would have to say that I just kind of fell into it. It wasn’t planned whatsoever. I had a totally different route that I was going to take with my art but after doing it for so long, people close to me – knowing that I was artistic – would always ask me to draw things for them. Over time, all of that eventually turned into me drawing designs for their tattoos as well; I was basically nudged into that direction slowly.

Are tattoos the only type of artwork you do, or are you also a painter, sculptor, photographer, filmmaker, etc.?

Yeah, I do a lot of drawing still when I can, which I feel is important as a tattooer because not everything art-based should completely revolve around designing the next tattoo. Drawing for fun is always something that I’ve done.

Favorite tattoo on your body (why):

I got my first when I was 16, I’m 35 now, so that’s a lot of years to collect plenty of tattoos that I’m both happy with and those that I’m not, but I would have to say my favorites are my kids’ names. They were tattooed how they wrote them in kindergarten. When they got a little older, I let them tattoo a little piece next to each one of their names, which is pretty special to me.

Favorite tattoo you’ve given or most memorable (why):

I think that’s a million dollar question for most tattooers haha… I’ve done so many that I thought were awesome; it makes it really hard to say what was/is my favorite because each of those tattoos is memorable in its own way.

Artwork by Audie Fulfer of High Class Tattoo in Fresno, CA

Talk about how you got into tattooing – where did you start:

In the beginning, I just did small tattoos here and there on close friends, mimicking what I saw in magazines – but I never took it too serious mainly because I just didn’t want to mess people up. After some time, I did become more confident, but I was still playing it safe. However, I knew that if I really wanted to tattoo correctly, I needed to get into an actual shop.

Eventually, I ended up at a shop, and I finally got my foot in the door. It helped me get a feel for what needed to be done in order to be clean, safe, and sterile. So, in hindsight, it was the beginning of an apprenticeship. After a few months though, I got thrown to the wolves being told that I had to step-up and start tattooing after one of the artists was fired – I had to hit the floor running. I stayed within my skill set at the time, but it was difficult and mind-racking. So I guess you could say that I had a partial apprenticeship, but mostly, I taught myself.

You own High Class, talk about the early days?

Well, I had been tattooing for this shop, and things were going good for a while, but eventually, the owner started doing things that were unsavory to me. He was treating customers and the staff like crap, snaking clients from his own staff and then taking advantage of the situation without appreciating any of it because he wanted to be the rockstar of the shop. So when I decided to leave, I told myself I didn’t want to work at a shop that treated people unethically or wrong but then a buddy that worked at the shop with me said that I should open my own place instead of working for someone else. Ten years later, here we are!

Who’s your ideal client?

I would have to say someone who knows what they want but wants me to fully take creative control and design the tattoo because I know what will look good, work, and hold up over time. There’s so much trust that’s needed for that so when a client is willing and shows that amount of trust the results end up being awesome.

Favorite moment in your career thus far:

If I absolutely have to pick one I would have to say when I first got an email from a client in Canada who wanted to fly to Fresno just to get a tattoo. For me, it was a big deal because I finally knew that my work had started to make an impact in the industry. Since then, I’ve had numerous clients fly from different parts of the world.

Artwork by Audie Fulfer of High Class Tattoo in Fresno, CA

You do some amazing colorwork, were you classically trained in art or self-taught?

Everything I do has been self-taught for the most part, that and also discussing techniques and theories with other tattoo artists during my travels.

You also do quite a bit of portraits and renditions of famous characters – would you say that’s a specialty?

Well, it just kind of happened. I did a few here and there and since I’m a fan of a lot of the things I happen to tattoo and people started to take notice of that. Over time, more and more people wanted similar art done by me. I guess now you can say it’s definitely a specialty of mine.

What would you say your specialty is?

I would say full-color tattoos is my thing. I do a lot of different things but full-color realism, illustrated style art, and animation tattoos are what I’m known for.

Who (or what) inspires you?

Everything inspires me, I know that’s probably a cheesy response, but for now, I feel that it’s an accurate answer.

What’s next for High Class – any plans fans can keep an eye out for?

Well, we just started our 10th year, so I’m looking forward to seeing what another ten years bring. Also, I’m going to be starting an online store for my artwork. I’ll be offering t-shirts and stickers, buttons and prints, patches, sketchbooks and color books all based on my style of tattoo artwork and pop culture. That’s definitely going to be something to look out for.

Social media where people can follow you: 

Instagram @audie_tattoos @highclasstattoo

Recreational Marijuana is Now Legal! … Sort of

by Lisa Talley | lisa@fresnoflyer.com

As of January 1st, medical and recreational (adult use) marijuana became legal in the state of California. Per the Prop 64 measure, adults over the age of 21 can now consume, purchase, possess, and grow cannabis without the fear of prosecution so long as they are within the regulation of the new law… and in accordance with any other policies put in place by the city in which they reside.

However, for any business looking to get into the marijuana industry gold rush, things are a little bit more complicated.

QUICK FACTS

The state of California now allows for adults over the age of 21 to possess up to 1 oz of marijuana for personal consumption. Each household (not person) may contain up to 6 plants. However, the rules of growing are likely to differ between cities. As a general rule, plants are to be grown indoors, and they should not be visible to others outside your household. Smoking in public is prohibited under the ballot measure of Prop 64 unless allowed by a local ordinance – in other words, don’t smoke it just anywhere, fines may occur.

Businesses may begin their application process with the Bureau of Cannabis Control in Sacramento so long as they have received a permit from the city they plan to operate in. Each municipality can determine their own rules and regulations as to how commercial cannabis will coexist in their communities, if at all. Cities still hold the final ruling on whether or not marijuana businesses can operate within their jurisdiction.

So, what does all this mean for Central Valley residents and entrepreneurs? The short version is, it’s murky – there are more questions than answers as of yet – however, the long version can help give insight as to what to expect in the coming months.

PERSONAL USE

Central Valley residents can lean on statewide rules regarding their right to consume, possess, and purchase cannabis. However, growing marijuana will come with some additional conditions that will vary according to the city of residence.

In an article by the Madera Tribune, it stated that Madera growers will need to obtain a permit from the city which will need to be displayed in plain view at the residence where the growing will occur. Failure to do so could result in a $1,000 fine per plant or possibly, per day. Renters who would like to grow in their residence would need written permission from their landlord before applying for a permit with the city.

Farmersville disallows growing outside which forces residents to grow indoors – this will also require a permit.

“Now residents will have to obtain a City-issued permit and inspection if they are going to grow marijuana inside. The mayor added the permit is meant to ensure that electrical component and lighting are up to code and that there is not any mold where they are growing it.” (Paul Myers, The Foothills Sun-Gazette)

At the time this article was written, no other city had yet to implement an ordinance surrounding personal growing. That said, no matter how a city decides to regulate growing in their area, it cannot take away an individual’s right to grow indoors.

Adults over 21 may also purchase cannabis and cannabis products from licensed retail outlets for recreational use. Patients who use medicinal marijuana may visit either a recreational or medical dispensary; however, medicinal marijuana will be exempt from paying the hefty (yet minimum) 15% sales tax.

“Proposition 64 would allow the state to impose a 15% excise tax on the retail sale of marijuana. Also, the state would be able to levy a cultivation tax on growers of $9.25 per ounce for flowers and $2.75 per ounce for leaves. The ballot measure also would let cities and counties to impose their own taxes to cover costs of services, including enforcement.” (Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times)

Expect the price of cannabis to fluctuate from city to city, or from county to county. Although the cultivation tax only affects commercial growers, it’s likely that those costs will be passed down to the consumer.

However, locating a retail cannabis dispensary is going to be the real challenge.

WHERE TO BUY

As each city is in different stages of deciding how they’ll handle commercial marijuana, recreational dispensaries may not yet be either approved or available to consumers. Although adult use is now legal, finding a recreational dispensary will be difficult for Central Valley residents as many cities have moved to ban recreational operations, Fresno, Clovis, and Visalia among them.

Farmersville, Coalinga, Hanford, Merced, and Woodlake are the first cities, so far, to allow commercial marijuana operations for either manufacturing or sales, and in some instances, both.

“But Woodlake – a town of less than 8,000 people about 15 miles northeast of Visalia in Tulare County – has pushed forward at breakneck speed, going from idea to ordinance to the approval of two companies’ dispensary proposals in less than six months. City leaders hope to unlock a treasure trove of tax revenue, which can be used to beef up a thinning public service budget and attract customers to a blip on the map found well off the beaten path.” (Rory Appleton, The Fresno Bee)

Green Bean Pharm, formerly a medical cannabis delivery service only, is set to open their new recreational marijuana complex in February.

SETTING UP SHOP

While some cities have approved commercial operations, not all have OK’d recreational sales. If you’re looking to get into the game as a dispensary, you’ll need to start off with the understanding that your options will be limited.

Only Merced, Farmersville, and Woodlake have given the green light to recreational sales.

Those looking to jump in as growers or manufacturers can look to Coalinga who is still accepting permit applications. More information can be found at www.Coalinga.com under the ‘Business’ tab.

FRESNO – A JOURNEY FROM TOTAL BAN TO OPEN MIND

Fresno voted in the 12/14 City Council meeting 7-0 to begin the steps in allowing medical marijuana dispensaries within city limits along with cultivation, manufacturing, delivery, testing, and processing – all limited to medicinal purposes only.

The original text amendment included commercial operations open to both medical and recreational marijuana. After a tense debate from City Council and passionate testimonies from the public, City Council Member Steve Brandau motioned to revise the amendment to limit all commercial cannabis operations to that for medicinal purposes only, Garry Bredefeld seconded the motion. Council President, and co-sponsor of the amendment, Clint Olivier, declined the revision before ultimately voting ‘yes’ alongside the rest of the council.

The vote does not immediately translate to an open application process for those seeking a permit to open a dispensary, but rather to begin the conversation and research into creating the rules and regulations that will allow medical marijuana sales in the future. With the total ban in place, City Council would have been unable to approach the topic with any real meaning. At least with the new amendment, Fresno can move forward on deciding what medical marijuana operations could look like within city limits.

To help them draft the ordinances, the city has set aside a budget to hire a consulting firm to “sit with professional city staff, our professional city planners and determine how many dispensaries are needed by this community, where should they go, who should the operators be, [and] how we select the operators,” said Olivier during the 12/14 City Council meeting.

Both sides of the argument were present during the discussion as members of the public took to the dais. Law officials rebuked the statement made by pro-cannabis – that by allowing legal marijuana, the black market would disappear – arguing that the imposed taxes would raise costs significantly and drive those who could not afford legal cannabis back to the black market. However, they provided no counters to any claims made by the medical marijuana community which consisted of relief for symptoms of cancer, physical pain, anxiety, and insomnia to name a few. It is perhaps, the driving reason behind the City Council’s move to revisit the total ban.

It is what helped Fresno Police Chief, Jerry Dyer, change his tune on the topic of medical marijuana, after all.

“I do have mixed feelings about medical marijuana, I really do. And I can tell you that my feelings have changed over the years after listening to some of the stories that have been told here, from the individuals I’ve talked to and I do believe that there are individuals out there that have a legitimate need for medicinal marijuana [and] I support that, I really do,” he stated during the 12/14 City Council meeting.

However Dyer’s outlook has changed on medical cannabis, the Police Chief still firmly opposes recreational marijuana on all fronts.

It will likely be several months before Fresno sees any drafts on the regulating of how medical marijuana is commercially grown, cultivated, processed, manufactured, distributed, and sold within the city.

Expect more passionate City Council debates to follow as Fresno works to reconcile differences locally with County regulations and nationally, federal law still classifies marijuana as an illegal substance.

LEGAL – SORT OF…

Just days after California legalized pot, Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, decided to rescind the Obama-era policy that kept the federal government’s heavy hand out of states’ marijuana laws.

Still considered an illegal substance on the federal level, the Obama Administration’s policy allowed each state to decide for themselves on whether or not to legalize and regulate marijuana – generally barring federal law enforcement officials from interfering with sales in states where cannabis was legal.

“In 2013, President Barack Obama’s attorney general advised prosecutors not to waste money targeting pot growers and sellers that were abiding by state laws but to go after flagrant violations such as trafficking across state lines or selling to minors. Under this policy, several states legalized recreational pot, growers and sellers had begun to drop their guard over fears of a federal crackdown and the business blossomed into a sophisticated, multimillion-dollar industry feeding state government programs with tax dollars.”

(Brian Melley and Sadie Gurman, Associated Press)

With the shift in federal policy, some investors are skirting the cannabis industry by either choosing to wait out the storm or by leaving it altogether for fear of increased marijuana prosecutions. However, members of Congress – both Democrats and Republicans – are pushing back with the claim that the turnover not only violates states’ rights but it is also destructive and backward.

Sessions’ move also goes against the will of the people.

“According to a 2017 Gallup poll, 64 percent of Americans support legalizing cannabis for adult use, including a majority of Republicans. And a poll conducted by Marists indicates that 83 percent of Americans support legalizing cannabis for medical purposes.” (Eric Brakey, CNBC)

It’s unclear how the federal level decision will affect each of the states moving forward, but it’s clear that the marijuana industry won’t be fighting it alone.

So much remains ambiguous about the regulated future of legalized pot in California, even more so in the Central Valley. As some cities are still waiting to make their final decision, others have banned it outright, and Fresno is soon to embark on the unique challenge of writing new policies for medical marijuana businesses, from growing all the way to sales – but one thing is clear, and that it is going to make for a busy yet very interesting 2018.

Give Back for 2018

by Lisa Talley | lisa@fresnoflyer.com

Charging through the holidays and finally making it out to the other side means we can finally take a breath and put our focus on the new year ahead. But what does that mean, exactly?

For each of us, that path looks a little different. There might be some similarities as we’ll all be looking for new ways to improve ourselves and the life we provide for our families in some way, but what we choose will ultimately be a culmination of experiences we survived throughout 2017.

It goes without saying that the nation has been hit with some unbelievable changes and more tragedies than we’d care to admit over the last year. The repeal of DACA and Net Neutrality, the natural disasters that seemed to hit in relentless stride, shootings, violent treatment of protesters… the list goes on. The world could use a little peace, and so could we. But pushing the entire planet into a monumental achievement like world peace is a little unlikely, instead, bringing some harmony into our own lives is a more feasible task.

But what if we could provide that sort of healing transformation for someone else?

Every year, we put the focus on ourselves or our immediate family, but if 2017 was proof of anything it was that we all need each other. Perhaps this year would be a good time to think about what we can do for one another, rather than only what we can do for ourselves.

Make it a personal challenge to connect with one cause, whether it’s donating your time, your efforts, or even some blood – look towards 2018 with a goal to uplift communities, both man, and animal-kind.

Below is a list of local organizations and charities throughout the Central Valley that make it their business to lend a helping hand to those in need.

Central California Blood Center – is committed to saving lives and improving patient care by providing a safe and abundant blood supply for the patients and families in the communities they serve. www.donateblood.org/donate-blood

Habitat For Humanity – They facilitate a partnership among families who demonstrate need, the ability to pay the mortgage, and a willingness to partner in the construction of their home. This partnership also engages community supporters who join the families in the home building process and provide both financial and in-kind support for building supplies and materials. www.habitatfresno.org/volunteer

Valley Animal Center – Nonprofit no-kill dog and cat adoption center. Their mission is to assist with and provide for the health and welfare of the animals that have been abused, mistreated, abandoned, and injured; to promote the bond between animals and people; and to instill an appreciation and respect for all living creatures with whom we share this earth. www.valleyanimal.org/volunteer

Central Valley Community Foundation – For more than fifty years the Central Valley Community Foundation has been a trusted partner in philanthropy in the Valley. Founded in 1966, they provide giving options for individuals, families, businesses and other foundations to invest in programs that address social and environmental needs. www.centralvalleycf.org

Yosemite Ridge at Camp Wawona Inc – The mission of Yosemite Ridge is to enrich the lives of children and families who have chronic or life-threatening illnesses by creating a camp experience that is memorable, exciting, fun, empowering, physically safe, and medically sound. www.guidestar.org/profile/20-1105731

Hinds Hospice – Here to help those living with a terminal condition, their caregivers and those who have lost a loved one. In addition to providing hospice care services in both the Hinds Hospice Home and in a patient’s own home environment, they also offer an extensive bereavement (grief) support program through the Center for Grief and Healing, specially trained pediatric hospice and skilled nursing teams, a perinatal hospice and infant loss support program, “Angel Babies/Bebitos Angelitos,” a formal physician education program, global outreach, and four thrift stores throughout the central valley. www.hindshospice.org

Alliance for Medical Outreach & Relief – a Community-based non-profit that strives to ensure equality. They build alliances with other organizations working in areas of concentrated poverty to create a safety-net of medical, social and youth development resources, tailored to the specific needs of each community they serve. www.amorelief.org

Valley Teen Ranch – their mission is to provide hope to vulnerable children, youth, and families through life-changing relationships and experiences. Programs include: Residential Group Home, Foster Family & Adoption Agency, and Transitional Living. www.valleyteenranch.org/volunteer

Angels of Grace Foster Family Agency – agency that provides a place of refuge and healing for foster children. A place where they can receive the nurturing and care that they need from professional social workers and trained foster parents. www.angelsofgrace.com

Break the Barriers – Celebrating awareness and victories of all abilities, ethnicities, and ages through exceptional programs, outreach, and inclusion education. With performances, assemblies, conferences workshops, and clinics, Break the Barriers will promote integrated sports, health and fitness, performing arts, and aquatics programs. www.breakthebarriers.com

San Joaquin Parkway & Conservation Trust – the mission is to preserve and restore San Joaquin River lands having ecological, scenic or historic significance, to educate the public on the need for stewardship, to research issues affecting the river, and to promote educational, recreational and agricultural uses consistent with the protection of the river’s resources. www.riverparkway.org

Catholic Charities – Catholic Charities Diocese of Fresno is a Community Benefit Organization serving the needs of those in crisis with sites in Fresno, Merced and Bakersfield. www.ccdof.org/volunteer

Reading and Beyond – goes where families are, offering holistic, research-based programs at multiple sites throughout Fresno and Madera Counties. www.readingandbeyond.org

United Way Fresno and Madera Counties – (UWFM) brings resources together to address the most urgent issues the community faces. Through unique partnerships and approaches, UWFM mobilizes resources beyond the dollars that are pledged through their fund-raising efforts. www.uwfm.org

Fresno Arts Council – “enrich people’s lives through the arts.” FAC sponsors, promotes and encourages the arts throughout the city and county of Fresno and acts as an umbrella for artists and art organizations from all cultures and disciplines through advocacy, education, programs and services. www.fresnoartscouncil.org

Marjaree Mason Center – provides emergency and longer-term Safe Housing, along with a wide variety of support services for victims of domestic violence in Fresno County. www.mmcenter.org

Comprehensive Youth Services – is dedicated to providing a full range of prevention, intervention, treatment and educational services to help abused and at-risk children and their families. www.cysfresno.org

Resources For Independence – Encouraging people with disabilities to be in control of their lives and live more independently through a diverse range of choices and opportunities. www.ricv.org

Fresno Barrios Unidos – goal is to provide young people with the skills and opportunities they need to thrive in their communities and give back. Their approach is holistic, culturally sensitive, and inclusive of all. Fresno Barrios Unidos transforms communities by empowering youth and families through advocacy, education, and wellness. www.fresnobarriosunidos.org

Rape Counseling Services of Fresno – The mission of RCS Fresno is to end rape and sexual violence and empower survivors while supporting safe, consensual relationships. www.rcsfresno.org

Youth Leadership Institute – builds communities where young people and their adult allies come together to create positive social change, to challenge and improve the society in which they live as it relates to educational and health inequities, substance abuse, predatory financial practices, public housing, youth voice, and many other issues. www.yli.org

Arc Fresno – Arc Fresno empowers individuals with developmental disabilities to attain greater independence by offering everyday life experiences in a supportive community. www.arcfresno.org

Kings Canyon Veterinary Foundation – mission is to provide the appropriate medical, surgical and preventative care for all veterinary patients presented regardless of the owner’s ability to pay reasonable charges for services. Limited only by available funds. www.kingscanyonveterinaryfoundation.com

UFW Foundation – The United Farm Workers Foundation’s mission is to open the doors of opportunity to working people and their communities. Goals are to Foster communities that engage immigrants as active and informed participants. Reform the immigration system to access legal status for immigrants, and a clear path to citizenship. Lead a national network of farmworker serving organizations to influence policy and expand services at the federal and local level. www.ufwfoundation.org

Valley Center for the Blind – assists blind and visually impaired persons in experiencing a more independent and opportunity-filled life. These efforts are achieved through specialized methods of training and education provided by our professional staff. www.valleycenterfortheblind.org

Stone Soup Fresno – to nurture leadership that will create positive change for Southeast Asian refugee families to move forward and find their voices and places in America. www.stonesoupfresno.org

Turning Point of Central Cal – The mission of Turning Point of Central California is to provide public benefit through helping people develop skills, motivation, and resources to become productive members of society; healthy in body, mind, and spirit. Reducing social problems through providing each program participant the opportunity to establish a healthy and productive life. www.tpocc.org

Cultiva La Salud – dedicated to creating health equity in the San Joaquin Valley by fostering changes in communities that support healthy eating and active living. Cultiva La Salud is among a growing number of programs in the nation who use a policy and environmental change approach to help community members gain access to healthy food, beverages and safe places to be physically active. This unique program is being carried out by diverse partners in eight counties of the Central Valley (Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Tulare). www.cultivalasalud.org

West Fresno Family Resource Center – To empower and support the West Fresno community to achieve optimal health and well-being. Activities through education, outreach, counseling and advocacy in the areas of prenatal education, school readiness, health insurance access, diabetes and chronic disease management, mental health and workforce development support. www.wfresnofrc.org

Fresno Center for New Americans – provide services to the growing needs of Southeast Asian refugees (Cambodians, Hmong, Lao, and Vietnamese) in Fresno County. These immediate services included education, employment linking services, social integration, health education, and housing, Refugees from many parts of the world also accessed our services. Through our Russian speaking staff members and on-call workers, we have been able to provide services to Russian, Somalis, and Middle Eastern refugees. www.fresnocenter.com

The Discovery Center – Park and Museum on 5 Acres – educational history and science center offering children a hands-on learning experience to stimulate a passion, curiosity and wonder for the environment and physical sciences.  We deliver science successfully to thousands of children each year in a variety of ways, including field trips, camps, outreach, birthday parties and more. www.thediscoverycenter.net

Community Food Bank – is dedicated to ending hunger in the Central Valley. They provide food to more than 200 agencies in Fresno, Madera, Kings, Kern and Tulare Counties and serve over 280,000 people each month totaling over 38 million pounds of food. www.communityfoodbank.net

Community Action Partnership of Madera County – are committed to finding the ultimate solutions for poverty while working effectively with local officials, the private sector, and representatives from low-income target areas. Helping people, changing lives and making the community a better place to live by providing resources and services that inspire personal growth and independence. www.maderacap.org

Dark Chocolate Lovers Unite

by Lisa Talley | lisa@fresnoflyer.com

The door opens, and within seconds the air explodes with the intoxicating smell of chocolate. It ripples and swarms, and finds the intricate crevices of the human sensory receptors, cramming in its rich and inviting aroma. It instantly inspires a slew of pleasant childhood memories.

“It’s not exactly Willy Wonka… but welcome to our factory.” The charming, yet humble introduction by Elisia Otavi, chocolate maker and founder of Raphio Chocolate.

It may not be an expansive playground of wild colors, weird contraptions, and physics-defying candy, but there’s no question that there is a hint of magic in the air. And in all honesty, what’s the most important thing to any chocolate lover anyway? The chocolate itself, of course.

Inspired by her sons, Raphael and Rio, Elisia wanted to make a chocolate bar that she would be confident to serve them. No fillers, no preservatives, no artificial flavors, just healthy chocolate.

Seems a little like an oxymoron, but real chocolate is actually good for you.

“Doctors do recommend eating dark chocolate every day, the only rule is that the chocolate has to have at least 72% cocoa content. Meaning, the percentage amount of cocoa in the bar eaten,” Explains Otavi.

The entire Raphio collection contains a minimum of 72% with some going above and beyond to the 82%, 92% and even 102% cocoa levels. What’s more is that each batch of chocolate is made from scratch using less than five ingredients, most of which (if not all) is organic, a significant departure from the more common and commercial brand of chocolate we often find in the grocery store.

Real chocolate is made from cacao beans, which are found in cacao pods, which grow on cacao trees. Cacao beans essentially consist of cacao powder and cocoa butter – and when ground or milled over a period of time that cacao butter melts and mixes with the crushed beans developing into the smooth, melted chocolate consistency we’re all so familiar with. However, most commercial dark chocolate makers press the butter out and replace it with an oil substitute.

“Cocoa powder is what remains after the process of pressing the cocoa butter out of the ground cacao beans is complete. To make chocolate from the cocoa powder, the large commercial chocolate producers typically add the oil substitute in place of the highly-prized cocoa butter, such as soybean oil, palm oil, canola oil, or some other cheaper vegetable oil. To mix them, they add soy lecithin as an emulsifier which is a waste product… and other products to stabilize the chocolate,” Otavi further expands.

During this part of the commercial process, the chocolate tastes so bad that the chocolate producers have to add a significant amount of sugar and vanilla extract to cover up the flavor. The over processing of the bean removes the chocolate from its natural state and in doing so, eliminates any health benefits that were initially present.

Labeled ‘Single Origin Artisan Craft Dark Chocolate,’ Otavi is present through the entire process of ‘bean-to-bar’ for all of Raphio’s products. Hand-selecting the cocoa beans, the flavors are brought out through the roasting – to which Otavi will taste the beans herself. Afterwards, the beans then go through a few days of continuous grinding where the level of organic cane sugar is determined and added. Directly following is an aging period, and lastly, depending on the type of bar, the chocolate will achieve its final flavor profile before being molded in their signature Raphio shape. That’s it. No fuss, no muss.

One of the truly unique characteristics of Raphio Chocolate is that the chocolate isn’t always the same, meaning that the flavors can change from batch to batch… and it’s how Elisia Otavi prefers it.

“Just like wine and coffee, the soil, climate, rainfall, and other environmental factors do play a role in affecting the flavors of the cacao beans which are grown on the trunk of the cacao tree. The different flavor notes in my single-origin chocolate bars are pretty distinctive depending on which country and region the tree is grown,” she offers.

On the wrapping of every bar, handwritten on the back of the label, is the batch number. Because of the above factors, the chocolate can take on a myriad of complex flavors – however subtle – that change from batch to batch – much like wine. As with coffee, flavor profiles will bloom during the roasting process, allowing any natural toffee or nutty notes to come to the front. Otavi isn’t interested in deconstructing the bean to force a flavor that never existed in the first place for the sake of maintaining one flavor and one flavor only, as a craft chocolate maker she’s focused on harnessing the true characteristics of the cacao for a rich experience every time.

Visitors can also get a closer look at the chocolate making process by taking a tour of Raphio Chocolate’s factory. Bonus: there’s a tasting at the end.

The Chocolate Factory Tour

Could you blame us for taking the tour? Talking chocolate just isn’t the same if it isn’t coming from the first-hand experience. Fortunately for us, Elisia and her husband invited us to their factory to get an inside look at how their chocolate is made.

Near the corner of Barstow and First, in a quaint and unsuspecting suite, is Raphio Chocolate. You can spot them by their signature and ornate logo design displayed in the window.

Otavi takes us to the back room – a quick two room jump from the front door – where the smell of chocolate seems to be bursting at the seams. There, she walks us through her roasting process and then proceeds to hand us each a single bean.

Somewhat like a walnut, the bean cracks under the pressure of our fingers. A light shell fragment away from the more substantial pieces of the bean and we’re told to eat one of the more solid parts. It was almost like eating a chocolate covered coffee bean – chocolate notes were present, but a prominent bitterness immediately overtook the sweetness. This – in its near unaltered state – was the authentic taste of chocolate in its purest form.

Otavi takes us through the separation process where the beans are crushed, then separated into cacao nibs (the inside of the bean) and cacao husk – the outer shell of the bean which is not thrown out. Instead, it’s used to create a sort of loose leaf tea – this helps to ensure that Raphio Chocolate’s process is virtually waste-free.

The next room – moving closer to the front – holds the grinders. Want to know where all that explosion of chocolatey goodness in the air is coming from? Here. The room with the grinders. *tip – try not to drool.

This is the stage where Otavi decides the percentage of cacao by adding the organic cane sugar to the mix. However, if it’s the 102% cacao, no sugar is added, and the ‘chocolate-making’ ends here.

The next step was what I found the most surprising – I assumed that after the mixing, the chocolate would be molded, chilled, and packaged, however, it wasn’t. The chocolate first goes through an aging process. Again, the comparison to wine deepens.

Chocolate, as Otavi explains it, will continue to develop specific flavors and change profiles during an aging process that is anywhere from 2 – 4 weeks. Huge blocks of chocolate line the shelves of their grinding room, patiently waiting to be plucked from the stack and molded for public enjoyment.

Once a block of chocolate is ready, it’s taken through a tempering process to achieve that beautiful, glossy finish with a crisp, familiar snap when broken.

And now we’re on to the tasting.

Ecuador

(the only bar in the Raphio line with 72%, 82%, 92%, and 102% cacao)

We start with a sample of the 72% cacao. It is reminiscent of most craft dark chocolate I’ve tasted, but the Ecuador carries a nuttiness that pushes back the bitter bite of the cacao.

Next up, the 82% cacao. As a dark chocolate lover, this hit the sweet spot (figuratively) on the spectrum of punchy cacao with a full body of flavor that teeters on the edge of being coffee-esque.

*tip – rinse with water between each tasting

We’re on to the 92% cacao, and we’re getting closer to that real original flavor. The punch hardened on the taste buds and stayed on my pallet long after the chocolate has melted. Definitely a great way to pack a lot of flavor into smaller portions.

102% – this is not for the faint of heart. No sugar, no sweetness, just pure cacao. If you like your whiskey neat and your beer sour, this is for you.

Peru

Coming back down to the 72% line was a near shock in terms of the difference. For me, it almost widened my pallet – jolting it awake if you will – to the depth of flavors present in the other bars.

The Peru line held a sweetness closer to that of brown sugar mixed with a little bit of fruit, complimenting the cacao by using its bitterness to give the bar its full breadth of flavor.

Nicaragua

At the time of my writing this, this bar was out of stock on the Raphio website. The Nicaragua steps closer to the brown sugar with a more profound range, without any fruity notes to combat the cacao.

Tanzania

A personal favorite. Where the other bars stayed true to the round, full-bodied flavor of the cacao, the Tanzania bar shared the spotlight equally with its different characteristics.

*tip – do not chew the chocolate, but let it melt on the tongue

The cacao hits the taste buds, but almost immediately backs off, what replaces it is something akin to honey. The melting chocolate coats the mouth with a roughly similar consistency, but as quickly as it arrived, it disappears, and the honey has transformed into an unfamiliar fruit. By the time I think I’ve figured it out, the cacao reappears and finishes the experience.

Peppermint, Coffee, and Clementine Olive Oil

New to the Raphio line is the inclusion bars utilizing additional flavors. Peppermint – using organic candy canes – is here just in time for the holiday season. Coffee – featuring coffee flavors from locals Kuppa Joy Coffee and Clementine Olive Oil, another collaboration with the local company, Enzo Olive Oil Company.

The Clementine was a pleasant surprise, hearing the words ‘olive oil’ doesn’t inspire a clear direction of how this flavor is going to fit with the dark chocolate, but one taste explains it all. The bright citrus cuts through the cacao and a symphony of orange flavor bursts in the mouth.

It’s clear how this bar won Gold in the International Chocolate Salon as well as Gold in the Best Chocolate Bar category. Their Coffee bar also took home a Bronze.

But of course, each person’s pallet is going to be different, and you’ll have to do a little bit of tasting on your own to find your perfect dark chocolate adventure.

Raphio Chocolate, the locally owned and operated artisan craft dark chocolate company, invites you to take a tour, partake in a tasting, and experience a time-honored treat in a delicious yet healthy way.

Follow them on Facebook and Instagram @Raphio.Chocolate to stay up to date on tours, news, and giveaways. A full location of where to find their bars and cacao products for purchase can be found on their website www.RaphioChocolate.com.

China Peak Celebrates 60 Years

by Lisa Talley | lisa@fresnoflyer.com

For Central Valley locals, we all have a bank of memories brimming with similarity. It’s spending those torturous months of summer dragging our inner tubes and floaties to the river, lazily drifting on the cool water to escape the heat. It’s the smell of fried, heart-wrenchingly delicious food during the fair, the crack of a baseball bat over Chuckchansi stadium, driving up the winding roads to the flush campgrounds of Shaver Lake, and in the winter, driving up a little further to hit the slopes at China Peak.

The first trip is always what sticks out the most for many. “Who knew the mountain was so big? I would have never guessed all of this was just outside of Fresno,” we all say as we admire the waves of flawless snow blanketing the ground, crisp air in our lungs turning into billows of steam as we exhale our “Oooo”s and “Ahhh”s.

Since the resort’s opening in 1958, China Peak has been making lasting first, second, and umpteenth memories. In having survived changes in ownership and a devastating drought, the resort is coming up to its 60th birthday, and on December 16th they’ll be hosting their 60th Anniversary Party to celebrate their history, influential figures, and of course, all the people who love the mountain.

To kick things off, China Peak will be rolling back their lift tickets to historic 1958 prices. As it stands now, the current prices range from $53 to over $80 depending on the age of the purchaser and the time of year. However, taking things back to the original 1958 prices mean that lift tickets are only $5. Nope, not a typo. As of December 1st, lift tickets are just $5 for the day of the 60th Anniversary Party.

Of course, all good things cannot last, and the tickets are a limited quantity. However, it won’t be the only time discounted tickets will be available, lift tickets priced at 1968 prices ($12) will be available after the first set runs out. Once that block has been sold out, then the costs move up to 1978, 1988, and so on. As each set is first come, first serve, patrons will have to keep a close eye on the website so as not to miss it. They’ll become available, online only, at 12:01 on December 1st.

“It’ll be a mad dash to get those tickets at those low rates,” says Tim Cohee, Managing Partner, and Operator of China Peak.

Aside from the massive discount, the resort will be hosting a full day of entertainment. Starting off the day is a DJ at 11 am, followed by a live music performance at 2 pm, beer tasting provided by local brewery Sequoia Brewing Co., photo booth, and contests for the best outfits and gear from the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. Prizes for the contest include lift tickets and lodging nights.

Amidst the celebration, there will also be a toast to honor Joe and Joanne Weirick, former owners and treasured members of the Shaver / Huntington Lake communities who both passed away in 2015 and 2017.

Having owned and operated China Peak for 14 years, Joe Weirick, a Fresno local, purchased the resort in 1964 from the bank after the ski area’s original owners filed bankruptcy. From 1964 – 1978 the Weiricks transformed China Peak from a single chairlift and a few rope-tows to adding more lifts, building runs, installing the original snowmaking system, as well as adding new buildings to the resort.

Snow Summit, a large ski corporation based out of Big Bear Lake, purchased the resort in 1982 and was operated by majority owner, Dick Kun. The December 16 celebration will also honor his contributions to the mountain from 1982 – 2010.

“[Dick Kun] actually hired me to start my ski career about 40 years ago, he and I became close friends. He died about a year ago at the age of 76, he was an important person in my life and had a lot to do with my success,” shares Cohee.

Tim Cohee purchased the ski area from Kun in 2010 and has been the majority owner of China Peak ever since. Between Joe and Joanna Weirick and Dick Kun, these influential figures of China Peak’s history owned and operated the resort for 42 out of its entire 60 years of existence.

Like the Weiricks, Kun also heavily improved the ski area. Through a whopping $20 million investment, China Peak (then known as Sierra Summit) saw an upgrade in lifts, the addition of new lifts, new runs, the improvement of existing runs, the addition of a new snowmaking system, new parking lots, and additional base area facilities.

“He really developed it into, I think, and what many people would call one of California’s best mid-sized mountains,” Cohee adds.

Honoring both the Weiricks and Kun means also toasting to their legacy of passion, dedication, loyalty, and love for the mountain as it undoubtedly continues to resonate with the local community. Decades of building lasting memories for the Central Valley is, in large part, due to their hard work.

And the hard work indeed continues under the careful supervision of the current managing partner, Tim Cohee, but where each owner focused on improving the equipment, Cohee now focuses on the personal experience China Peak offers the resort’s guests.

“I think what the ski area was lacking under the watch of Snow Summit and its managers was real attention to detail regarding servicing the guests. I think what everyone would say is that we bring a real sense of service to the resort in terms of literally everything,” Cohee continues.

In fact, since taking the reins in 2010, Cohee’s team took on the task of remodeling the hotel – an aspect of the resort almost wholly overlooked during the last few decades as previous owners emphasized equipment. Also, updates and improvements had been made to the menus, cooking facilities, bars, seating, and welcome facilities.

The majority of ski areas in California – roughly 70%  owned by large corporations – leaves only a respective 30% to be held by private individuals. According to Cohee, it’s also part of what – in a way – makes China Peak rare. That, and being a stunning mountain in an unexpected place.

Fresno and the Central Valley have a knack for surprising its out-of-area visitors. It’s not uncommon to hear outsiders vocalize their shock at what the Valley has to offer in terms of just about anything, from the art scene, local music, sports, and of course, the vast landscape of foothills and mountains all around the Valley. Fresno is an untraditional market with a surprisingly impressive resort.

“If China Peak were transplanted into Lake Tahoe, it would be a competitive ski area,” Cohee says from his 40 years of experience working in more traditional markets, Lake Tahoe included.

The success of the resort is a combination of dedicated owners and operators driven to providing an unparalleled experience, hard-working staff, and loyal visitors. Without each, China Peak wouldn’t be at the benchmark of an incredible 60 years. And as such, the 60th Anniversary is a celebration of a long journey the resort has been on since 1958, and a celebration of the community that, regardless of ups or downs, has shown their support throughout the years.

Join China Peak on December 16 as they look back at the past and step forward into the next 60 years.

For more information about the 60th Anniversary Party, visit www.SkiChinaPeak.com. Lift tickets sold at the historic prices are good for December 16 only, no exceptions. More details on the sale of discounted tickets can also be found online or by calling the resort at 559-233-2500

On The 30-Year Plan

Glen Delpit and The Subterraneans share how they kept it together for three decades.

by Don Priest aka The Hound Dog | kfsrbluesdog@gmail.com

30 Years! About one-third of a lifetime! How many of us can say we’ve been doing something for 30 years, like living in the same house, working at the same job, staying with the same spouse?  In this age of transience, longevity seems almost a lost art.  But that art is not lost on one local band that will be celebrating their 30th Anniversary at Fulton 55 on Sunday, December 3d.

Yes, Glen Delpit and The Subterraneans are 30 years old! Hard to believe, even for them, that a band which began as a side project for the now defunct “Houserockers,” is still performing today.

“A lot of luck and a great mix of personalities,” is how Glen Delpit attributes their longevity.  “Easy going, even-keeled individuals that get along well and are open to a lot of ideas.”

Yes, there have been some changes in personnel over the years. But the core group of Glen on guitar and vocals, with Dean MacDonald on lead guitar, John Suhr on keyboards and Joe Luppino on drums have been together throughout. Even the newest member, bassist Chris Eacock has been a “Sub” for eight years.

As for the music of the Subterraneans, it’s all original and springs from the fertile imagination of Mr. Delpit.  A prolific songwriter who has penned over 500 tunes, he strives to make his lyrics as poetic as possible and follows the examples set by those he considers The Masters.  “T.S. Eliot said, ‘If you’re going to steal, (and everybody does), steal from the best. No use stealing from someone mediocre’ and I follow that rubric,” he says. Thus his songs may contain ideas based on “couplets from Robert Johnson and other early blues greats like Charley Patton, ideas and lines from Hank Williams and of course the master B. Dylan. I doubt I would have written much without his inspiration,” he says.

The result is something he calls “Bluesrootsy Americana,” a style based on Blues/Rock and Folk that’s very lyric driven and very danceable.  Glen has written so much material that the band has already produced 5 CDs worth of his tunes and is currently working on the 6th.

Of course over a 30-year period, you’d expect there to be some significant memories, like the first gig at “The Oly” and early shows at “The Wild Blue”- two legendary venues from days past.  “The Blue was like family. I met my wife there,” says MacDonald.”   The band has also backed Bo Diddley and opened for The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Booker T, Dave Alvin (who Glen describes as “the best roots artist in the country”) and most recently for Los Lobos. “That was a real treat,” says MacDonald.

But more than people and places, it’s really the music that keeps this band together. “I love to play,” says MacDonald.  “And if there’s an opportunity to play in front of people that makes it even better.”

As for playing with ‘The Subs’ he offers, “We started as bandmates and turned into friends.”

Friends that have been making music together for over 30 years.  Happy Anniversary Glen Delpit and The Subterraneans!

Think Local. Shop Small

by Lisa Talley | lisa@fresnoflyer.com

Last year, shoppers spent a staggering $655.8 billion on Black Friday, just one single day of sales and specials. Even more, those numbers are split between in-store and online purchases as shoppers find fewer reasons to compete shoulder-to-shoulder in crowded stores for their prized item, putting online sales at $3.3 billion in 2016. As expected, the top numbers went to the most significant discounters: Amazon, Target, Best Buy, Walmart and Kohl’s. But imagine what would happen if small and locally owned businesses got a piece of that pie.

Currently, California outdoes all the other states with the highest number of small businesses (those employing under 100 people) and ranking number one in the nation. In fact, according to a U.S. Small Business Administration report in 2015, 99.2 percent of employers in the state are small firms (employing under 500). That’s 6.5 million employees who work for a small business and likewise, millions of reasons to spend dollars at local establishments.

When we choose to shop local, we decide to support local in a real and practical way. Whether it’s stopping in for breakfast at Chicken Pie Shop in Tower or grabbing a Poke bowl at 201 Kitchen in Hanford for lunch, the revenue they earn from your business is more likely to go back into the Central Valley. Everything from taxes, rent, and fees to purchasing supplies and services from other local vendors, it’s all money pouring right back here at home to improve and strengthen the local economy.

There are also some additional perks that you’ll be hard-pressed to find at the big stores as well.

It’s not uncommon for patrons to walk into a small business and unknowingly engage with the owner who is either helping their sales force move items or holding down the front desk to assist customers. In this event, a customer who is looking for the best deal has an increased chance at negotiating a better price if they’re working with the owner. Each business has their set of costs, but without a large corporation tying their hands with regulations and strict policies, the owner can work with their customer on-the-spot to beat the competition.

Building a holiday wish list can, for many, be a bit of a ritual – tireless research for the right model, brand, technical specs, price and for the store offering the best deal – however, small businesses tend to be overlooked as shoppers plan their Black Friday and holiday shopping. The Central Valley has plenty to offer and a wide range of small, locally owned businesses to choose from.

Here are just a few we’ve had the pleasure of working with.

1. Jensen & Watts – Owner: Jeff Johnston

Family owned and operated since 1960, this Fresno business specializes in outdoor equipment. Lawn mowers, generators, power saws, edgers, chainsaws, vacuums, etc. Jensen & Watts also provide parts, services, and accessories for Stihl, Honda, Tanaka, Briggs and Stratton, Kawasaki, Ariens, and Tecumseh.

Located at 516 N Chestnut Ave, Fresno. (559) 255-0465 www.JensenandWatts.com

2. Fresno Hock Shoppe – Owner: Robbie Van Gronigen

Fresno Hock Shoppe has been a Belmont Ave figure, locally owned and operated, for 30 years. Robbie took over ownership five years ago, although he has worked for the Hock Shoppe the entire 30 years it has been open. The pawn shop sells a variety of items like guitars, basses, musical instruments, tools, electronics like tablets, laptops and game consoles, and firearms. The staff, always eager to help, are known for their youthful and energetic approach.

Between now and Christmas, Hock Shoppe is offering 30% off jewelry and select electronics (except layaways).

The Fresno Hock Shoppe also offers a variety of items on eBay, and you can also check out their inventory on their website at www.FresnoHockShop.com

3. TV Guyz – Owner: Edgar Sandoval

Locally owned and operated for three years, TV Guyz – if the name didn’t already give it away – specialize in TVs, computers, gaming consoles, and games. One thing you wouldn’t expect is that they also offer furniture. TV Guyz can also repair cellphones, computers, and gaming consoles.

Currently, TV Guyz is offering $60 Firesticks (Kodi installed) $130 Fire TV box, and 32 inch TVs for $90 during the holiday season.

Located at 4843 N Blackstone Ave Fresno. View their inventory and services at www.TheTVGuyz.com (559) 493-8403

4. Karkazian Jewelers – Owner: George Karkazian

Family Owned since 1978, George Karkazian opened his first store on West & Shields, and soon after, Karkazian Jewelers moved to the corner of Shaw and Willow where they established themselves as one of the Valley’s leaders in jewelry/watch sales and repair for over 40 years. In July 2007, Karkazian Jewelers added a second location in north Fresno at the corner of Friant and Ft. Washington. In February 2009, Karkazian Jewelers moved their Clovis location two blocks to East, right on Shaw Avenue between Willow and Peach.

Karkazian Jewelers focuses on quality jewelry with a pleasant buying experience. One of the few jewelers that can cut and polish your chipped diamonds.

Located at 493 W. Shaw Ave Suite B Clovis (559) 297-0201  9447 Ft Washington Rd #110 Fresno (559) 434-9009 www.KarkazianJewelers.com

5. Bebe O’s Vintage Boutique – Owners: Lupe and Martin Oftedal

Born and raised in Fresno, Lupe and Martin opened up Bebe O’s after Lupe suffered an injury at work. They began selling new and used designer clothing and are now a vintage only store. Specializing in vintage fashions and furnishings, Bebe O’s also offers vintage party wears perfect for themed parties. Customers can even rent pieces for a special occasion in which you’ll receive some tailored attention.

Lupe and Martin say it’s not unusual to have a client several hours in the shop as they are trying on a variety of clothes and fitted properly.

Bebe O’s is also active in the local community, often involved in fundraising efforts. Some of the causes they’ve raised money and items for include cancer, autism, homelessness, battered women, and education. In fact, on December 16 they will be hosting their 8th Annual Christmas Party and Toy Drive. There will be refreshments, entertainment, plus discounts and giveaways. Admission is a donated unwrapped toy.

Located at 1130 N Wishon Ave, Fresno. (559) 445-1928

6. Deans Coins – Family Owned Over 30 years

This family owned and operated pawn shop carries a variety of items including jewelry, TVs, tablets, and tools just to name a few. For the holiday season, they’re offering 10% off all TVs.

Located at 2325 E McKinley Ave Fresno. (559) 264-4653 www.DeansCoins.com

Be safe as you head out to hunt down that perfect must-have thing on your wish list, but don’t forget to check out the local guys – you never know what you’ll find. Happy shopping!