Hello and good day!
In November 2021 we opened up our first retail chocolate shop here in Issaquah, WA.
At that time, we had exactly 4 products. We had two milk chocolates, our 36% and our 47%, our 68% dark chocolate, and we also had cacao nibs. The chocolate was in big 1.1 pound blocks, which we continue to sell both online and in our shops. Prior to opening the retail location, we had been selling these 4 products online since the beginning of 2020.
Prior to 2020, we'd been selling our three chocolate products on a wholesale basis to high end restaurants and chocolatiers for over a decade.
We decided to go into retailing for essentially one reason. We didn't want to furlough our team during the summer. We had a great team working for us in fulfillment and we had to tell them there wasn't any work for 4 months two years in a row.
Since we weren't shipping during the summer, there was nothing for the team to do. God bless them. They came back both times after not working for several months.
Maybe some other companies would simply consider their fulfillment team to be a high turnover, temporary position, but we didn't see it that way. Most of our team in Peru has been with us since the very beginning, almost 15 years.
We like having people with us for the long run and we usually do everything we can to bring that about, even if it means opening up a retail shop to keep our team busy.
Our first retail location is in a business center with almost no foot traffic. Many days in the beginning, nobody came in. And those who did come in were confused by the experience. We had a good sized, open space, and all there was in there were stacks of 1.1 pound blocks of chocolate on a counter.
It was a very strange and austere experience for those first customers. Once our chocolatier Javier started creating, word got out that we had good products, and people came looking for us. But that took several months to really get traction.
In the meantime, I was walking around the parking lot out in front of our shop talking to people and trying to get the word out. A little way down, there is a popular sports bar. At night, after 5pm, a lot of blue-collar guys go there to drink beer and watch sports and decompress.
One night right after we opened, I walked over to the parking lot of the sports bar. It was dark out.There were 6 guys standing around the bed of a black pick up truck. They were all drinking bottles of beer, and a few were smoking cigarettes. I guess they decided to bring their own beer and stand in the parking lot drinking it.
They were making a lot of noise, busting each other's chops, and expressing strong opinions with great passion. There was plenty of cursing and yelling. These fellows had gravelly voices from the constant smoking and yelling. Most had scraggly beards and uncut hair hanging down underneath baseball caps.
They were all wearing raggedy clothes, covered in paint and concrete stains. All had on steel toed boots.
I walked up on these guys and let them know we had just opened a new chocolate shop. I asked them if they wanted to come check it out and get some free samples. These men were younger than me, but they sounded older on account of their raspy voices.
There was a moment of silence and then one of the guys said, "Aw hell man, we might as well come check it out." The others nodded. I waved for them to follow me, and they came along.
In the shop they ate samples, and all made a purchase. They had a good time and we talked and joked. A couple of them started coming in regularly.
One always said that his "old lady" kept asking him to get more chocolate. I found that funny because the guy was younger than me and his girlfriend or wife was probably much younger than me too. Yet, he was calling her his old lady, which shows you how certain vernacular works its way into speech depending on cultural influences. That group of young guys referred to the women in their lives as their "old ladies".
Anyhow, what I love so much about this memory is that there were people who never in a million years would have tried our chocolate before, now trying and enjoying it. That has been one of the real highlights of the last three years.
It isn't only high end dessert professionals enjoying what we do now. It is construction guys drinking beers in the parking lot of a sports bar. This is just one memory of many that I cherish.
But there are many more. So many in fact, that my brother Brian and I decided to record an episode of the Chocolate Bros podcast dedicated to some of these memories. If you'd like to give it a listen, just click below.
Thank you so much for your time today.
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!