3400 Phinney Ave. N.
Seattle, WA 98103
In 2006, Theo Chocolate became the first 100% organic and fair trade—from bean to bar—chocolate factory in North America, and this little brick palace of deliciousness and moral goodness is right here in Seattle. A tour of the factory only costs $10, and from start to finish, it is a crowd-pleaser for anyone between the ages of 5 and 105. You will want to get there early to spend some time in the Theo’s shop, sampling all the bars, oogling the beautiful confections, and checking out specialty items before you move to the entrance for the tour. You can honestly have a full meal of chocolate there among the samples.
Before the tour begins, you will be asked to don hair nets, beard nets, and—if you are wearing open-toed shoes—foot nets.
Once you’ve entered the tour room, you’ll learn the “bean to bar” story from one of Theo’s amazing tour guides. I’ve taken this tour three times, and every time, the guide has been funny, charming, knowledgeable, and kind. Beans are passed around; nibs are shared; more chocolate is imbibed. Think of this seated part of the tour as dessert after the lunch you just ate in the shop.
The tour moves from this seated area to the small factory, where machines that look as though they came straight out of Willy Wonka are making their magic right before your eyes. At the end of the tour, as others move up the stairs and into the shop, you will take a door to the sidewalk that takes you back to the shop. And you will want to go back to that shop to purchase everything you have just tasted.
Although the tour is both a joy and accessible, there are a few challenges in it that you’ll need to be prepared for if you have mobility concerns.
Parking: This is the first little challenge. Parking is street parking, and there are no reserved handicapped spaces. In order to make it possible for me to get into the factory easily and on time, we parked in a “no parking here to corner” spot, hung our handicapped tag from the mirror, and hoped for the best. In spite of hope, we were asked to contribute to City of Seattle coffers that day. This problem can probably be avoided if you get there before the others in your tour get there. That wouldn’t be bad thing, either, because you can spend that extra time in the shop wandering among the samples.
Entrances: The entrances to the shop and the factory tour are separate. Both are step-free and easy to get through, particularly if you are there with friends who will hold the door open for you.
Seating and aisles: The aisles in the retail shop are wide, making it possible to see (and taste) nearly everything from your chair. The seating during the first part of the tour consists of a few rows of benches separated by a narrow aisle. Wheelchair travelers can sit behind the last row of benches, but tours groups are small so you can see everything very well. Also, Theo’s has a few folding chairs in the room, so pushers and other friends can sit next to you. There’s also an advantage to being back there. You will be seated where the sample-passing ends, making it possible to sneak a few extras without detection.
In the factory part of the tour, the walkways and aisles are excellent—wide, flat, and easily navigated.
Restrooms: Restrooms are a problem. They are located in a short corridor just outside the shop. Stalls are narrow; there are no grab bars around the toilet; and the toilet is low to the floor. I had to take my pusher in with me—clearing the room of others—to use it. We were warned, though. When we called to make our reservation, we explained that one of our party would be in a wheelchair. The person who scheduled us said that there were no stairs to worry about, but the bathrooms did not have grab bars.
Interestingly, as we entered the factory after the seated part of the tour, we passed a bathroom door with a wheelchair logo on it. Could people on the tour use it or was it just for employees? If you are in the shop and you need to use a restroom, I suggest that you ask if you can use that one. If you use it during the tour, however, everyone else on the tour will be waiting just outside the door for you to finish in there so the group can move on. That probably won’t feel very good!
Photos of interior space online: Yes, many on Google images. The Theo Chocolate website also includes photos.
Photos of entrances online: Yes, on Google images
Reservations taken: Reservations are required. Tell them you’re coming in a wheelchair, and ask about the handicapped bathroom. When you call to reserve your spot, tell them Spoken Wheel recommended them!
What the wheelchair pusher has to say: Parking is challenging because it’s Fremont, where there’s no parking anywhere! The tour is flat and easy to navigate. The bathroom required a helper, so be sure to take someone along whom you are really friendly with! The ADA bathroom appeared not to be available unless you were on the tour. Everyone was really nice and accommodating. Another plus was that the retail shop had huge aisles–lots of room.
Photo credits: Image of Theo’s entrance – treatsandtrends.wordpress.com Image of Theo’s chocolate – www.theochocolate.com