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Posted: December 14, 2012

Colorado cool stuff: Design bags, Ritual chocolate, whiskey rocks, Ubooly

Eric Peterson

MARUCA DESIGN BAGS

Maruca Design has been designing and sewing handbags from American-woven Jaquard fabric since Rex Maruca started the company in 1992. Maruca’s background in the upholstery business led to a Jaquard sample bag. A customer liked his bag, one thing led to another, and 20 years later Maruca has released two colorful collections a year – more than 200 different designs made from some 600 fabrics in all. Designers come up with colorful fabric patterns in-studio in Boulder and a network of local home-based seamstresses sews the bags.

Annual revenue is about $2 million, and the nine-employee company usually sees 15 percent growth a year.

"We have fans who are fabric nuts, like we are," says Angela Schuster, sales and marketing manager, describing collectors and customers for life – and beyond. "I’ve had a customer buried with one." $15 to $150 retail.

Made by Maruca Design Inc., Boulder, (303) 444-3648, www.marucadesign.com. Also available at numerous stores in Colorado (a list is on the website).

RITUAL CHOCOLATE

After Robbie Stout and Anna Davies met at a coffee shop in 2009, they started dating, then they started making chocolate bars. Not just any chocolate bars, mind you: Their Ritual brand consists of 75 percent high-grade cacao beans and 25 percent cane sugar, and nothing else.

"We can’t make really good chocolate without really good cacao beans," Stout says. "It’s along the same lines of wine." Stout and Davies first sourced their beans exclusively from a hand-picked farm in Costa Rica, before launching a second bar made of beans from Madagascar in August. Monthly sales immediately tripled.

"There’s nothing else like it," Stout says of Madagascar cacao. "It’s so citrus-y and so nutty. It’s just an amazing and unique flavor." Now Ritual Chocolate is in 75 stores across the country and looking to expand; a bar made of Ecuador cacao could be next. $6.75 per bar retail.

Made by Ritual Chocolate, Denver, www.ritualchocolate.com.

SPARQ HOME WHISKEY ROCKS

Steven Chavez and Justin English have been in the soapstone wholesale and fabrication business with Denver-based Dorado Soapstone since 2001. Between rounded corners and sink cut-outs, soapstone scrap "piles up on you," says English, and usually ended up in a landfill. Their solution was recycling it into ice-cube-replacing whiskey rocks.

"The main premise is soapstone absorbs heat and releases it slowly," English explains. Because of this, SPARQ Home Whiskey Rocks keep straight liquor cool without diluting it with ice-melt. (English calls them "a cool man gift.") Naturally food-safe, soapstone also makes a great griddle for most any cooktop, which SPARQ debuted this summer.

"It’s been crazy," English says. "We’ve just gotten blown away." $20 to $25 for a set of eight to 12 rocks retail; about $100 for a griddle.

Made by SPARQ Home (a dba for SJ Home LLC), Denver, www.sparqhome.com, (303) 800-6591. Also available at Hazel & Dewey in Denver and the Cupboard in Fort Collins.

UBOOLY

The brains (and the face) of this cuddly "smart toy" are an iPhone or iPod Touch that you tuck inside it, and an app gives it personality and constantly updated content (including games and choose-your-own-adventure stories).

"This toy evolves with the kid," says Carly Gloge, who created Ubooly with her husband, Isaac Squires. The idea morphed from an animatronic concept. The couple refined and simplified the concept in the 2012 TechStars program in Boulder after "vagabonding" and developing mobile games, then put down roots in the city. "It’s been really good," says Gloge. "We have a really strong community." $30 retail.

Made by Ubooly Inc.,
Boulder, (800) 658-2030, www.ubooly.com. Also available at the Denver Art Museum gift shop.

Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com

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