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Starting a Chocolate Business

Joan Coukos from Chocolat Moderne (picture from the Post-Gazette)

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.

Jacques Torres with his candy machine on display above

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.

Jacques Torres Logo

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.

Jacques Torres creates the foundation for the sculpture

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.

Jacques Torres popping the balloon structure

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.

Jacques Torres and his 10 minute chocolate masterpiece

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!

Chocolat Moderne

Jacques Torres Chocolates
66 Water Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
(718) 875-9772

Chocolate Haven
350 Hudson Street (at King)
New York, NY 10014
(212) 414-2462



Alice says on April 6th, 2005 at 11:59 am:

Oh my! What a neat chocolate idea/trick. I never thought to use balloons in that context. I think I just found my next weekend food project!

Leanne says on April 7th, 2005 at 11:12 am:

I have visited his store in Brooklyn and loved it, i also bought a couple of his cookbooks and use them all the time! I had tried this
idea once before and found that the chocolate stuck to the ballons and when I deflated them, my bowls crumbled with the balloon. Is there something that I should use on the balloon to prevent this? Thanks for sharing this wonderful idea!

Jessica says on April 9th, 2005 at 11:49 pm:

Thanks so much for sharing! I’m still bummed that I missed the talk!

Kelli says on May 17th, 2005 at 3:20 pm:

Hi Sophie — I tried submitting this question to Jacques Torres through his site, but no response yet. I haven’t tried making the bowls yet so I’m not sure how to help. Try it and let us know if you discover a secret method. Maybe the chocolate needs to be thicker to create a more sturdy bowl.

Dorian Isenberg says on July 6th, 2005 at 5:19 pm:

Hi Leanne and Kelli. I am a chocolatier and have my own chocolate company in Dallas Texas I spent some time working with Jacques in his factory. Make sure that the ballons do not have any type of powder coating on them. The powder will make the chocolate stick to the balloons. You also need to make sure the chocolate is tempered correctly and has set completly. If the chocolate is not tempered and has not completly set, it will not release from the balloons. The small amount of water that Jacques adds before he starts piping seizes the chocolate slightly and allows it to hold its form as he pipes it. If you don’t do this you need to wait until the chocolate cools and thickens to the point that it won’t run, then you take the chance of it cooling too much and not being able to pipe the design you want. Hope this helps…

Dorian Isenberg
J Dorian Chocolatier

armando says on August 1st, 2005 at 11:48 pm:


Dorian Isenberg says on August 13th, 2005 at 12:03 pm:

Armando: The best way to learn what you need is to find someone who will let you ask them question and work with them. If you want to e-mail me I will try to help.

Jasmina says on August 15th, 2005 at 10:05 pm:

I would love to apprentice in a chocolate shop, and learn the trade.

Dorian Isenberg says on August 16th, 2005 at 4:07 pm:

All of our positions are curently filled. However, please feel free to email me at dorian@jdorian.com and I will help as much as possable.

armando says on August 16th, 2005 at 10:58 pm:

Thank you for the advise Dorian. Ill look into it more. Armando

Jeanna-Marie Bazillion says on October 26th, 2005 at 2:58 pm:

I traveled to NY just to see the new place, Great!!!!
Thanks to the Chefs who help out the “Newbies”

Carrie Collins says on October 31st, 2005 at 2:53 pm:

I’m wanting to start a home-based business of selling chocolates on-line. I just don’t know how to get started. Any advise or information would be greatly appreciated!

Liyah says on November 29th, 2005 at 1:26 pm:

i think the way u made the choclate is really good i also want to kno more about the choclate and if it is posible for me to make it for myself, cuz i would luv to try some but it is just that i do not have the money to pay u with, i am a big fan of choclate and i am so good with choclate even my parents and friends can’t believe, if so i would like to see some more pictures of u making this chocolate, and some to make it look like an advertisement.
thank u

Barb says on February 8th, 2006 at 4:07 pm:

I’m like to start a home based business called “It’s All About Chocolate. I’d like to make things pertaining to chocolate to sell. What kind of training do I need or do I?

Pat Kitkowski says on April 3rd, 2006 at 12:20 am:

Hey, I am going to be starting a new job at the Almondine Bakery up in brooklyn with Herve Poussot and Jacque Torres. I was wondering if you could email me tips on starting this crazy adventure, I just turned 20 today, and I almost have no idea how to go about getting a place or what the neighborhood is like, i leave in about 4 months. thanks alot, my email is Guiar_patrick@yahoo.com Thanks again!

Effie Morrow says on May 17th, 2006 at 10:11 am:

I want to open a small store and just sell everything that could be eaten Chocolate. At this point I would not make my own; but sell, with interesting varity and names to compliment the store; but most of all have fun with Chocolate. I’m thinking of retiring very soon and truly want to do something I will enjoy. Help me start ! Eff

Chris says on December 11th, 2006 at 8:06 am:

I attempted the small balloons as I was going to make them as desert bowls filling with chocolate mousse and rasberry sauce. However, my balloons keep “exploding” (you would not believe the mess !!!!). I have tried not inflating as much and making sure that the chocolate is somewhat cool but not hardened and they still explode. Any suggestions or recommendations ?? Any help would be greatly appreciated.


Kelli Bernard says on December 11th, 2006 at 8:36 am:

Hi Chris- I’m sorry to hear about the exploding balloons, but I’m sure your guests will appreciate the story later on :) My first thought was that the chocolate may be too hot, but if you tried cooling it that must not be the problem. I didn’t see any trouble during this demonstration with exploding balloons, and haven’t done it myself, so I’m not too sure what can help. Is it possible that the type of balloon you are using is the problem? Maybe try switching to a different brand with a thicker balloon wall. Good luck! Sorry I can’t be of more help.

Kiri says on May 18th, 2007 at 2:32 am:


I love chocolate and would love to start my own chocolate business, but I dont know how, did you have to make your own chocolate from scratch or use another brand product?

Kelli Bernard says on May 18th, 2007 at 4:56 am:

Hi Kiri- No, you don’t have to make your own chocolate from scratch. Most chocolatiers buy their chocolate, temper it, and put it into molds with their own filling.

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Lovescool is the documentation of a journey to discover what sweet things are out there, why people love them so much, and perhaps what it takes to start something new.

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An interest, that turned into a blog, that turned into a career. Kelli Bernard is now the owner and baker of Amai Tea & Bake House.

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