With America’s growing demand for fine chocolate, it is no surprise that the number of gourmet chocolate shops increases every day. Stories about entrepreneurs like Joan Coukos, who left her banking day job to start Chocolat Moderne, inspire chocolate enthusiasts everywhere and make us wonder what it takes to start something new.
The high demand for chocolate does not mean immediate success in the chocolate business, and it is a challenge for even the most passionate and talented chocolatiers to open their own store. Established Pastry Chef, Jacques Torres, took the risk of opening a chocolate shop in Brooklyn in 2000 and went on to become one of the most successful chocolatiers in New York. Fortunately for the chocolate world, Jacques Torres was willing to share some of his wisdom about starting a chocolate business during a talk at the French Culinary Theater.
The event felt like a meeting among friends, and Jacques Torres presented his personal slide show of pictures documenting his journey while starting Jacques Torres Chocolates in Brooklyn and Chocolate Haven in Manhattan. He was honest, straightforward and quite entertaining, and it was a remarkable opportunity to learn from a leader in the business. Some of his tips and tricks for success include:
Learn from the best. True craftsmen will be willing to teach you the trade.
American chocolatiers are often more competitive and less willing to share information about their methods. Jacques Torres believes European chocolate makers are more helpful since they view the business as a craft more than a money making venture. He recommends traveling outside of America to find chocolatiers willing to share their experience.
Make sure your logo represents your business.
To represent his product, Jacques Torres integrated the colors of the rain forest along with a cacao pod in his logo. The handwritten style font is meant to represent the handmade qualities of his chocolate.
Promote your website.
Having good content on your website and properly promoting the URL can help customers around the world find information about your products. Good photography is the key to selling products online. 1/3 of Jacques Torres Chocolate sales are from the web.
The cost of opening a chocolate shop is high, but can be lower if you do the work yourself.
There will always be people around to give you money, but they’ll want 51% of your business. If you don’t want to give the majority of control over to investors, start doing things yourself when possible. For his first store Jacques’ budget was $120,000 for construction and $100,000 for equipment, but when he spoke to a contractor the estimate for construction alone was $600,000. He decided not to spend the money on professional help, and called in a team of chef friends to help him build the Brooklyn store from the ground up. Jacques bought his supplies from Home Depot, filled his pastry bag with caulk, and went to work putting in the floor, ceiling and everything in between himself. (Note: He does not recommend doing a drop ceiling; “it’s a nightmare”.) General contractors usually take 10%, so if you can be your own you’ll save. Jacque’s hard work paid off, and his budget for his second store, Chocolate Haven, was 1.6 million.
Buy quality specialty equipment, it makes a difference.
For specialized equipment (like the stove) don’t skimp. Buy high quality machinery that will consistently work well, and stick with it.
Go to restaurant auctions for everything else.
Eight of every ten restaurants go out of business in New York, and there is great used equipment available for 50% – 90% off retail price. For pots, pans, containers, etc., buy from restaurant auctions. From his experience, bribing auctioneers with chocolate can help secure advanced notice of the great sales.
Always remember to have fun.
In addition to sharing tips on starting a business, Chef Torres did what he does best, make chocolate. He demonstrated a quick and easy way to make chocolate “bowls” and a beautiful display.
Inflate five small balloons (approximately 4 – 6 ” high) and one large balloon (approximately 12″ high). Close with a rubber band, do not tie.
Place a small dab of melted chocolate on wax paper. Dip the bottom of a small balloons in a bowl of melted chocolate and set on the chocolate base on the wax paper. Repeat for each small balloon. Refrigerate to cool.
Place a larger dab of melted chocolate on wax paper. Add a little bit of water to the melted chocolate and place it in a piping bag. Pipe chocolate in lines from the top of the ballon to the bottom. Set the large balloon on the chocolate base. Refrigerate to cool. Add more lines of chocolate as desired and cool between each addition to firm.
When the chocolate has set, carefully remove the rubber band from the large balloon and deflate inside the chocolate structure. Pop the smaller balloons and fasten the remaining “chocolate bowls” onto the larger chocolate structure with small dabs of chocolate.
Before eating warn people allergic to latex, since the balloons were in direct contact with the chocolate.
Thank you Joan and Jacques for inspiring us all!
Jacques Torres Chocolates
66 Water Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
350 Hudson Street (at King)
New York, NY 10014