Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What a Ride it's Been!

Chocolopolis May 2008
Two years ago I opened Chocolopolis. It was July of 2008, and while the economy had been struggling for awhile, the biggest hit was yet to come. Winter is the time for heavy chocolate consumption, not summer, yet we had a very good July and August in 2008. I don't know if it was the economy or the "wow" factor of being a new business with a cool concept, but our sales were better than I'd expected. I remember thinking, "If business is this good in July and August, can you imagine what September will be like?" We got to September and the stock market tanked. Cue the crickets.

It was a tough first year. We were trying to teach people about artisan chocolate and educate their palates in a very poor economy. Looking back I remember nights of little sleep and many tears. My wonderful husband, Mark Kotzer, kept me sane with optimistic reminders of why I would succeed. In my heart I knew I'd succeed because I always work hard and smart, and I don't doubt my ability to make things work. But it was really tough.

Two years later the sleepless nights and tears are gone. My days are still filled with a lot of hard work, but my job is a lot more fun now. We have many wonderful, loyal customers who have learned about artisan chocolate and come in to chat about their favorite bar, their children or their grandchildren. We've built a reputation around the country for being one of a handful of chocolate retailers that really understand artisan bean-to-bar chocolate. We've got an incredible team working at the store, all of whom are passionate about chocolate and enjoy working with our customers. I'm lucky to have such incredible employees!

One of the absolute best parts of this job is getting to talk to some of the most talented chocolate makers and chocolatiers in the world on a regular basis. I feel like I have a red line phone to Alan McClure of Patric Chocolate and Colin Gasko of Rogue Chocolatier. It's really great talking to these guys, and what I don't hear from one of them directly, I hear from the other. They're incredibly passionate about chocolate, and they're really talented artisans who are both friends and competitors. I've also learned from other artisan chocolate makers like Art Pollard of Amano and Shawn Askinosie. All of these chocolate makers are sources of so much information when it comes to the many interesting topics around fine cacao such as bean genetics, fermentation and drying techniques and cacao sourcing. I'll be talking with all of them in the near future for some upcoming blog posts on these issues.

I also have to thank Christopher Elbow, a world class chocolatier who took our word that we'd treat his confections right and agreed to let us sell these tasty gems on our truffle counter. Chris has been an incredible supporter, making us the only store in Washington state that sells his chocolates, and coming to Seattle to meet our customers in our first year. It's been a pleasure working with Chris and his team, who are incredibly supportive and down-to-earth, and who really care about producing excellent chocolates.

I've also enjoyed getting to know some of the other retailers around the country who are equally geeky about chocolate. Who are they? Seneca Klassen of Bittersweet Cafe in San Francisco, Biaggio Abbatiello and his team from Biaggio Chocolate in DC (my hometown!), Jesse Manis and Aubrey Lindley of Cacao: Drink Chocolate in Portland, and Jack from Chocolate Covered in the Noe Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. These guys are all incredibly interesting characters (particularly Jack), and they're passionate about their chocolate.  I look forward to visiting Seneca, who is leaving the Bay Area for Hawaii, where he'll tend his own grove of cacao trees full time. He's taking the plunge into cacao growing and chocolate making. I admire his willingness and fortitude in being able to follow his passion to the root of the cacao tree! If you'd like to follow Seneca's journey, check out his blog or follow his progress on twitter.

Most importantly, I'd like to thank our customers. True to Seattle's reputation, you have proven yourselves to be engaged and interested customers who want to learn about chocolate from farm to bar. Chocolate makers who conduct tastings at Chocolopolis are always impressed by how many of you want to hear their story while trying their chocolate. You don't just eat samples and walk away. We're proud to have so many chocolate lovers in Seattle.

Thank you to everyone who has helped make our first two years a success! We made it!

Happy chocolate tasting,

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