Saturday, May 23, 2009

Another Dance with a Star

Wichita is the aviation capitol of the world. That means that we have a fairly steady stream of VIP's coming to town to pick up airplanes or continue their pilot education. So it's not unusual, but still exciting to have famous visitors. Imagine my surprise when during a recent celebration at our company's favorite restaurant, Chester's Chophouse, we saw a famous diner. Angie, our Retail Operations Manager, saw Harrison Ford come in for dinner. With permission, we had been sharing chocolates with all of the bar patrons as part of our celebration. So it seemed natural to me that we should also share our chocolates with Mr. Ford.

After several moments of 'was that really him' or not, we asked permission from our friends, Bobby and Susie Lane, to send a plate of chocolates to Mr. Ford's table. Over the next excruciating 20 minutes, I watched the plate of chocolates sit behind the bar. They were still sitting there long after it seemed possible that he would still be in the restaurant. Just as I had given up hope of making our big Hollywood break, I looked over my shoulder and right into the face of Harrison Ford. I think I squeaked out a 'hello.'

As you know, I'm a bit starstruck by chefs and movie stars, so this was exciting. In fact, the entire bar was speechless as Mr. Ford joined the bar scene for a nightcap. Okay, I'm starstruck, but not very shy. I got the plate of chocolates and went down to introduce myself. I first apologized for the intrusion, but then I was off to the races! I told him about our celebration and offered he and his companion the chocolates. He was very gracious, in fact thanking by name! Okay, I had it embroidered on my jacket, but he was way cool about it.

So two of the most amazing things happened in the next 30 minutes. First, we received drinks compliments of our famous guest. We thought that was the nicest gesture, but there was more. Before we had even had time to thank our new friend, there was a tap on my shoulder. Leaning on the backs of our bar stools was ..... Harrison Ford! He wanted to thank us for the chocolates, but stayed for a visit. He was so lovely, introducing himself and shaking hands with Angie and her sister Amber (who never stopped smiling for the rest of the night!).

The purpose for his visit was to compliment me on the chocolates. He said, "I'm not much of a sweets guy, but that lemon chocolate was incredible!" Again, I think I probably squeaked out a 'thanks.' The conversation that ensued revealed that Mr. Ford did have a sweet favorite, salted caramels. Angie informed him that "we make the best grey salt caramel in the world!" To which I suggested that we send him some. Now this was a reality check for us because it took us much longer than it should of to realize that someone with a high degree of visibility won't give out any contact information. Maybe if we hadn't had the drinks he sent over, we would have gotten it a little more quickly. But again, our very patient and lovely new friend, was firm but nice.

But he did give us a way to put our world-famous caramels in his hands. He was to be in town for the whole week and would be having dinner again at Chester's later in the week. And he invited us to send over chocolates for dessert. Yippee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What happens next? Tune in next time for the end of the story. Until then...Happy Memorial Day!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Cure for What you Crave

So the Cocoa Dolce gang put on a great show at the Chamber of Commerce mixer. Our table was beautiful and very well received. We were able to show off our award-winning chocolates and use the event to launch our new tongue-in-cheek 31 Day Cure for What you Crave. It's our way to offer our customers a healthy chocolate alternative. The AMA Journal has substantiated that 6.3 grams of bittersweet chocolate a day can reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure when taken before bedtime.

It's difficult as a chocolatier to be innovative and take advantage of trends without making health claims or being blatant. I really try to be thoughtful about not only what we produce but also how we package and communicate an item. I've been trying to develop an product touting the health benefits of chocolate since we opened, but couldn't figure out the right positioning. That's one of the real challenges of successfully relating products in an intelligent but not too serious way.

I think that's one of the qualities that make us distinctive in the industry...the ability to create delicious chocolates with a sense of humor. So when we decided to move forward with the 31 days of chocolate, our designer Paul Fountain, took my initial instructions and ran with a design that was a very fun 'medicinal' look including a doctor's prescription and packaging that looked like a pill bottle. I really liked the idea, but I found over time of letting the idea ferment, it just didn't settle

So I began thinking about how else we could market the health benefits of chocolate and I came across this photo:
About the same time, Paul came back with another design concept for our new product. Here is the label he brought in...

Perfect! It's perfection when an idea gets its manifestation! And I love the edgy, fun approach. So now we just have to sell them!!

Until next time...stay warm and dry! I'll tell you about our most recent brush with Hollywood in my next posting.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Dancing with the Stars

A week or so ago, Cocoa Dolce was named a finalist in the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce 2009 Small Business of the Year awards. This honor is awarded to small businesses in the metro area that have accomplished success in a variety of business measures including profit & growth, community involvement and employee relations. We were thrilled to be one of 72 businesses nominated and surprised to be announced as a finalist!

We were invited to display our business at an expo where the finalists were announced. We really like to go to these events, allows the over achievers in us to put on a show. So we brought the flowers, the packaging and the chocolate. We have found that regardless of the event, if we bring chocolate we are the most popular company there!

Friday, March 6, 2009

South Beach Buddies

Welcome to my blog! As a blogging virgin, I'm going to attempt to share some stories and experiences that shape my world. I'm following my passion (finally), and it's taking me on some crazy adventures! So welcome and here's a little story about my recent trip to South Beach.

My best friend, Karen, is a traveler. And I get invited to see some incredible places. And sometimes we go to Florida. Not that I have anything against Florida, I really like it, but this trip was designed for rest and relaxation. Have just had our butts handed to us over Valentine's Day, she thought it would be great to hang out for a few days, soak up some Florida sun and eat some great meals. I was in!

The night before we left, Karen discovered that the South Beach Food and Wine Festival ( would be taking place while we were there. It is considered by many in the food and wine world to be the biggest and most well-attended event in the country. Lasting four day, celebrity chefs, vintners and foodies like me wallow in amazing food and incredible drinks on the beaches of Miami. Usually a total sell-out, we were surprised to find tickets available for the Saturday night BubbleQ event. Sponsored by Perrier Jouet champagne, it featured celebrity chefs showing off their upscale barbecue styles.

Sponsored also by The Food Network and Food & Wine Magazine, it appeared to be the event of the weekend. So off we went. My first mistake was wearing was on the beach. There was sand on that beach and I spent most of the night trying to empty the huge amount of sand out of my shoes. Two words: flip flops! We arrived and were give our Reidel wine glass and a sparkly wrist band. When the gates opened, we were treated to rare roast lamb, lobster tacos, carne asada to make you cry, ribs, veal, crab, and celebrities!

I'll admit to being a chef junkie. I deeply respect a top chef's skills and passion. They are my rock stars, so it was heaven. Not only were many of The Food Network personalities there, so were the Food & Wine staff and many of the Top Chef contestants from Bravo's television show. So after about 5 glasses of delicious champagne, I decided to start using my camera phone to grab a few celebrity pictures.

Rocco DiSpirito...such a nice guy...totally tolerant of my goofy excitement!

Guy Fieri...Food Network star. Probably treated like the biggest rock star there based on the number of people crushing around him.

Rick Bayless...chef/owner of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo restaurants in Chicago. My first real chef crush.
Ilan Hall, winner of the second season of Top favorite TV show. One of my 'candid' shots.

Hung Huynh, season 3 Top Chef winner! Best plate of the evening...rare grilled lamb. Super nice guy, we had to take 3 pictures to get this one.

You know when you want to take a picture of someone, but they aren't allowing photos. Our solution? Have Karen stand next to them and pretend to be shooting her...that's how we captured this rare sighting...
Jared from Subway!!!!!!!! He was appearing somewhere else during the weekend and was hanging out with the rest of the celebs. Karen and I agreed it was the best $400 bucks we had spent and we laughed the rest of the weekend about it. As we were leaving that night, we got a chance to have a really nice visit with Tom Collichio...another amazing chef and head judge for Top Chef. Made my night! So here is my final photo...two really happy women. Until next time, enjoy!