Monday, September 27, 2010

Autumn & Art 2010

Autumn & Art Blog

We had our first concession stand experience this weekend at a new Bradley Fair event, Autumn and Art. The event took place behind the shopping center, along the lake. Artists came from all over the country to show off their work and we were one of several Bradley Fair food vendors represented in the food tent.

8 AM Saturday arrived very early after a fun night at the VIP Preview Party Friday night. Everyone enjoyed great food, music and a chance to get a shot at the art prior to the public opening. 

Our decision to sell chocolate, Italian sodas and gelato turned out to be a bit of a challenge in the 90+ degree weather, but with our amazing ice machine and the use of dry ice, we made it work.  We had a great turnout on Saturday; our Palazzolo’s gelato and refreshing Italian sodas did a great job refreshing the visitors while they strolled through the show.

Highlights of the weekend included college graduates try to count change (we didn’t even use a calculator) and watching Jay (Beth’s husband and Cocoa Dolce right-hand man ) transport and entertain us with his frequent ice runs in which he filled his large hiking backpack with bags of ice. 

Year one down! Next year...less gelato, lower temps and case quantities of club soda! ~ Just a bit of flavor!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Santo Caffeina!

Holy Caffeine!  I'm so excited right now!  Last week, we proudly rolled out our own line of artisan coffee!  As a small business owner, a challenge over time is to keep things fresh and exciting.  It's often easier for me to think of chocolate innovation, but this time the opportunity came to our hip little lounge.  Through a serendipitous convergence of business relationships and family connections, Mountain Goat coffee came calling.

A subsidiary company of a local restaurant chain, Mountain Goat Coffee is the real deal.  When these guys decided roasting their own coffee would yield better profitability as well as quality for their restaurants, they became coffee experts.  They traveled, studied and practiced.  And our paths crossed!

After three cuppings (intense coffee tastings) with customers, family and staff--we felt like we were onto something amazing!  Tasty, nuanced and smooth, the feedback was fantastic and the buzz began!  In addition to joining forces with such creative coffee artisans, we also got a chance to develop and visually brand a new addition to the Cocoa Dolce family of products.  Since we are blessed with so many creative and talented staffers, I gave much of the branding decision to my right AND left-hand adviser's, Angie and Amber.  In collaboration with our dream designer, Paul Fountain.

So how did we do?  Coffee has been roasted, packaged and consumed since almost the beginning of time.  It's hard to reinvent any aspect of coffee...but let's see how we did?? How about this for a label design??

The Cocoa Dolce Think Tank came up with the tag line:  Shattering Expectations!  And look at the cup!  Paul came up with this idea to carefully break one of our coffee mugs and then show the coffee bursting out of the cup.  Genius!  

And the rest is the beginning of history.  Sales are great, customers are happy and we have these really cool new products to talk about.  So if you see any of us, ask us about our coffee!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Academy Awards

Well okay, not THE Academy Awards, but certainly as small businesses go, one of the highest honors bestowed!  On May 17th, Jay and I flew to Washington, D.C. for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Summit.  At this event, it was to be revealed which of seven businesses from around the U.S. would be awarded the Small Business of the Year Award. 

From the moment we set foot in the Omni Shoreham Hotel, we were treated like royalty.  Since 1930, the Shoreham has been host to presidents, world leaders and inaugural balls.  We should have known we were in for a great experience when at registration we were recognized and directed us U.S. Chamber literature table where we saw the following…a promotional poster for the Small Business Network!

After that thrill, we went to check into our room which turned out to be a beautiful suite complete with wine, macaroons and chocolate.  I think we could easily make a pitch for their in-room chocolate amenity, but otherwise, it was amazing!  We had about an hour before the first 'official' event of the week would begin.  We were invited to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce building for a welcome cocktail party.  We had heard there was a great photo op there, but had NO idea what that might be.  When we walked in, once again we were immediately recognized by one of the wonderful U.S. Chamber staff who ushered us to the elevator for our rooftop photo.  Okay, for those of you who haven't visited D.C., every building in the downtown is a huge, stately limestone structure with columns, tons of dark wood everywhere and marble where it's not wood.  So off to the elevator for our photo.  So in addition to the beautiful building, the neighborhood doesn't suck either!

We could actually see Secret Service on the back portico and I think if I'd shouted, they would have pointed their guns at us!  It was amazing and so cool!

The cocktail party was a total blast...sorry I can't locate my photo standing on the podium acting like a dork.  I also got a chance to be interviewed by Free for their upcoming media campaign.  Haven't seen it yet, but we'll keep you posted.  So after a glass or ten of wine at the cocktail party, we made our way back to the hotel for a little rest and relaxation before the awards ceremony on Tuesday.  Of course, I couldn't sleep and weirdly enough found Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on late-night TV.  How perfect!!

Tuesday morning began with a private breakfast for the 75 Blue Ribbon Finalists.  Delicious food, fascinating attendees and a photo op.  This is Jay and I receiving our finalist certificate presented by Tom Donahue, President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  Of course, I stepped on my dress going up the stairs and made a bit of an entrance not captured in this photo.
After breakfast, Jay and I sort of hung out and visited with several of the other Regional Finalists we had met at breakfast.  I found it amazing that regardless of the business each nominee conducted, the passion and commitment to their business was consistent.  Bright, interesting individuals from all over the country--awesome! 
During the morning, Jay gave me a gift from our Cocoa Dolce family...hilarious, charming and totally heartwarming.  It made me cry because I had so wished that the whole gang could be with us that day.  And the best part?  The message was, "win or lose, we still booze."  Highly inappropriate in so many ways, but it made me laugh and broke some of the tension.  The gang also included a $20 bill so that I could buy Jay and I a drink when the event was over.  Perfect!

Time flew and suddenly we were in the main ballroom for rehearsal of the awards ceremony.  This is when it began to really feel like a big deal.  All seven finalists met and we were walked through coming onto the stage, hitting our mark (yes, there was actually tape where we were supposed to stop!) and exiting smoothly. 

Next thing we knew, we were front and center at our table sharing it with Sam's Club executives, U.S. Chamber executives, Phyllis Robertson from the Wichita Metro Chamber and a couple of American Airlines marketing executives.  I got so nervous--sweaty palms, nauseous and fidgety. I probably re-applied my lipstick 50 times in the time leading up to the awards.  And then it was our turn.  We were in a huge ballroom and there were floor to ceiling screens on either side of the stage for the people in the cheap seats.  It was unreal.  Our video started to play and people in the room started to cheer (well actually, we had made friends with most of Texas the night before and they became our cheerleaders).  It stood up and began the walk to the stage--made it up the stairs, hit my mark, received my Regional Finalist award, shook hands and was able to exit the stage without injury! 
Then the drum roll.....the winner of the 2010 U.S. Chamber Dream  Big Small Business of the Year...Fintech!  You know, I was thrilled for them.  Jay and I could not have been happier for the whole Fintech family.  Great business, great people!

This whole experience made us feel like Rockstars!  You know what the most satisfying part of this summit was?  Being able to represent Wichita and Kansas at-large and to receive such validation that our dreams and hard work mean something beyond our personal scope.  

Now the fire is lit...I want to come back to Washington, D.C. in 2011 and WIN this thing!  Who's with us?  

Until next time, Dream Big!!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Brush with Fame

I recently received a call from Debbie Kennedy, the Executive Director of the Alumni Association at Wichita State University.  She was planning a surprise visit with the famous, local celebrity, WU, to our store to meet and take pictures with Beth.  Debbie was representing the Alumni Association in congratulating and recognizing Beth and Cocoa Dolce as a Regional Finalist in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Awards.

Through several phone conversations and e-mails back and forth, we finally decided on a specific Wednesday evening for the "surprise attack".  This was a perfect night because Beth was supposed to be moderating one of our beer nights that we feature each month.  And, from the picture perspective, I knew Beth would be a little more "clean cut" and have "chocolate free" clothing rather than a normal evening of working in the kitchen all day and then dropping off chocolates.  It was the perfect plan....

Until Beth calls in SICK!!!!

So, Debbie and I went back to square one.  We picked another day and had it officially on our calender.  I told Beth she would be meeting with a potential new wholesale client named William Unruh.  Pretty clever, the initials W.U.  It made all of us chuckle as to how inventive we were!

Beth came in that morning and was helping me get together some samples and packaging ideas for our new client because "I just ran out of time" to do it myself.  She was quickly grabbing chocolates, packaging items and getting paperwork ready.  She was so busy getting these items together when WU came in and tapped her on her shoulder!!

She was completely surprised!  There was a short photo session with WU and Beth, which also included a discussion about chocolate.  Take a look at this little Brush of Fame!

And that's the Sweet Stuff!!

Monday, May 24, 2010

One Crazy Weekend

ROCKO, Winefest, No Beth....OH MY!!! It was about a month ago, but it still seems like it was yesterday. We had two events, that we support on a bigger scale, in one weekend. And, we were short Beth!! What were we thinking??

We have donated to ROCKO since its first fundraising event. It's a great organization that provides respite care and enrichment services for those with disabilities or special needs. This year's theme was "Jewels of Tazmania". We provide chocolates that are adorned with jewels. We tied each orange or black box with vibrant pink, purple, yellow and green ribbons. These were used at the event as an "on the spot" donation and a chance for a great prize.

This is usually a great event to attend as well! It's nice to be able to work really hard all week to make and package these beautiful chocolates and then be able to see all the happy people buying and eating them at the event.

This year, we were unable to attend because we were participating in Winefest that same evening. Winefest's Grand Tasting is a popular event in Wichita where the proceeds go to support the Guadalupe Clinic. We have been a vendor the past few years at this event. It's always hectic the week of Winefest trying to make enough samples AND get a booth together. This year was even more hectic because Beth was gone and we had another big event that same night. With lots of planning and extra work, we sent the ROCKO chocolates early and were able to set up in time for the doors to open at Winefest.

It was super hectic event..with LOTS of hungry chocolate eaters. We were almost out of chocolates within the first 30 minutes. When we started to limit 1 per person (just so we could allow everyone to at least have a little taste!) we got some glares. I mean, it's chocolate! Who WOULDN'T be mad to be limited on chocolate?!?

All in all, it was a very crazy and hectic week. However, knowing the end result is benefitting a charitable organization makes it all worth it!

And that's the sweet stuff!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Growing Wholesale Business

Almost five years ago, I was trying to finish my nursing degree. I had started off my college career at Kansas State University before I found my "love" for nursing and transferred back here to Newman University to pursue it. To make a long story short, that "love" died out a semester away from receiving my RN License. (And no, you don't have to mention "Go's just one's worth finishing that degree". You are in a LONG, LONG, LONG line of people that have spoken those same words in one way or another.) A college education was extremely important to me so I finished up and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies.

During all this "mayhem", my good friend, Jacob, who happens to be one of Beth's step-sons, mentioned that Beth was planning on opening a chocolate store. I happily agreed to pick up some hours in the midst of finishing up school. Little did I know what I was getting myself into. Ha! Ha! I started out my job at Cocoa Dolce with the construction of the store where I was putting up floor boards, painting walls, unpacking dishes, etc. I gladly put down my paint brush and calking gun to don the "famous" white cotton glove to begin helping customers. I was soon promoted to store manager and trained a lot of the people that still work here today.

As the years have flown by, and our business continues to grow, my role has changed to Business Development. I handle all of our custom projects, manage our corporate customers and run our entire wholesale business. Yes, I am a busy girl! I think the most exciting aspect right now, is the wholesale side of the business. Last year at this time, we had 5 wholesale customers "under our belt". To date, we have 17 wholesale locations, all over the United States, and still a few in the works. I have two lists on the wall behind my computer. The first contains names and locations of our current 17 wholesale customers. The second is my "wish list" of potential new customers that I WANT!! So, who knows, we jumped from 5 to 17 in just one year. Let's see what the next year brings for us!!

And that's the sweet stuff!!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Spring Beer Tasting

Wednesday was a normal day at work, my night to close so in at 2 and off a little after 9pm. However, when I received Beth’s email, I almost lost my stomach. Due to her being under the weather, she had asked if I could help moderate the Spring Beer Tasting. Being the girl that almost took her college Speech class online, I tried coming up with any excuse not to take on this task. After a couple hours of freaking out, I decided to stop complaining about it and step up to the plate, I mean, I did get an ‘A’ in my Speech class!

Matt Coleman from Glazer’s Distributers helped guide me along the way through the six spring beers and six chocolates. My favorite beer was Abita Strawberry (New Orleans), which was paired with our famous Classic truffle, a 57% bittersweet ganache dusted in artisan cocoa powder. The crowd favorite seemed to be the Rogue-Double Mocha Porter (New Port, OR), which was obviously paired with our delicious Mocha. However, many of our guests tried the Strawberry Balsamic chocolate with it and liked that combination even better.

Three beers down, the guests started to seem a little easier to talk to and I felt a little happier to talk to them. It was a smaller crowd than the last St. Patty’s tasting (probably because everyone heard Beth was going to be M.I.A.) but it was a very talkative, knowledgeable crew who never made me feel like I had no idea what I was talking about. When 9 o’clock rolled around I felt like a celebrity; I was signing menus and taking pictures with our guests- ok, it was only one couple and they had said it was going with tradition (they had taken a picture with Beth and got her signature last time) but it made me feel very important! ~ Just a bit of flavor.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Easter 2010

Bunnies. That's all I have to say about Easter 2010. It seemed like our flop-eared bunnies were on everyone's Easter list this year. It doesn't help that Easter snuck up on us so close after Valentine's Day but even if we had an entire year to plan for this holiday there still wouldn't be enough flop-eared bunnies. We joked that they were part of the black market- we had to start packaging them in back to people wouldn't grab them off our preparation table before they even made it into their boxes! Too bad our flop-eared bunnies don't have the same reproduction tendencies as real rabbits, then we would have been golden! ~ Just a bit of flavor.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Death by Chocolate

On a recent Saturday, the Cocoa Dolce team saddled up and took our show on the road.  As a primary sponsor of Exploration Place's fundraiser, Death by Chocolate, our goal was to help create a tasty and memorable evening for the museum's guests.

Each year we take a themed approach to the event.  This year we chose the theme, "Peace, Love & Chocolate."    Taking a page from the 70's book, we themed our chocolates, booths and staff dress to match the decade.  We had custom chocolate transfers made of peace signs and took the approach of a protest rally table.  As you can see, Amber and Angie were ready for the evening!
We decided to bite off a big piece of this event and in addition to our table filled with chocolates, we also gave our apprentice chocolatiers, Lisa and James, an opportunity to do a demo to introduce themselves to the Wichita community.  Despite a super soft ganache and the pressure of performing, they represented us so well.  The reports were stellar and I think the chocolates were delicious as well!
I spent my evening holed up in a private room hosting a wonderful group of guests in a wine and chocolate tasting.  We paired three wines with three chocolates with brief explanations of each.  I discovered the later in the evening it became, the louder and more enthusiastic the groups became!  It was a blast and I think will become a popular event for the fundraiser.

The museum tells us it was their most successful event to date.  We agree!  Not only do we get a chance to strut our stuff, our time and chocolate donations contribute to our fantastic children's science museum.  That is a win-win!  So if you are in the area, mark your calendars for March 26, 2011 for your own Death by Chocolate experience!

It's a sweet life!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Sweet and Jazzy Night Out

As if enjoying chocolate and wine isn’t good enough – throw in a little jazz and you have the perfect night out. That is what the after dinner scene is like at Cocoa Dolce on Thursdays. Roberto Bernardinello plays every Thursday night from 7 to 9 p.m. He always brings a fellow musician to entertain the crowd. If you haven’t been – it’s definitely worth making plans. Jazz at Cocoa Dolce makes a great date night, relaxing night out with the girls, or a fun place to unwind with co-workers. We do take reservations – so if you have a big crowd, call us ahead to make sure we have seats!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

We recently had a special visitor in from Washington, D.C.  Ian Wagreich, the Chief Photographer with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, came to interview Beth.  Let's back track a couple days.  Beth comes running in the door one day and says "You gotta listen to this e-mail I just got".  It was from our contact at the U.S. Chamber who had helped us submit our application.  The e-mail basically said that they had chosen a few businesses to feature during the summit in May.  No word was spoken regarding being a finalist.  We didn't want to "jump the gun" and assume anything, so we took this as a great honor and gladly accepted an interview.  *** Ian comes in and gets everything set up.  During a busy afternoon, with lots of customers coming and going, Beth proceeds with an interview and photo session.  

We all tried to listen for subtle "finalist" hints...but, nothing came!  Beth, Amber and I  planned a dinner at Chester's Chophouse as a thank you to Ian for coming out.  We were hoping he would spill the beans while we were there.  We all shared stories of trips, family, embarrassing moments, etc.  It was a great dinner.  Amber brought up the subject of Ian needing to travel a lot for his job.  She asked if he was visiting all 75 Blue Ribbon finalists or "perhaps just 7?"  With a smile on his face, Ian said: You know you're a Regional Finalist, right?  After our celebratory cocktail  and the knowledge that we were a finalist, we were all "happy campers" for the rest of the evening!!
...And that's the Sweet Stuff!!

Friday, March 19, 2010

St. Patty's Beer Tasting

We just had a beer tasting this past Wednesday on St. Patty's Day. Ryan Cochrin (Jacob's Liquor) and Beth did a great job "wining and dining" our 24 guests decked in green. The beer list included a range of 6 Irish beers, my favorite being the Harp Lager which happened to be paired with one of my favorite chocolates- the Irish Cream. With such great feedback from this crowd and previous beer tastings, Beth has decided to have a regular Beer Tasting Night at Cocoa Dolce every second Wednesday of every month- changing up the theme every time so if you're not on our email list, make sure you sign up so you can get the insider information about our fun events.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Okay...sorry for the sporadic blogging...collectively, the Cocoa Dolce team agrees to improve by inviting guest bloggers to assist me in my task. Today, I want to let all of our six followers know that we have been named as one of 7 Regional Finalists for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year! Check out this link for more details:

In addition to making a trip to Washington, D.C. in May, where the winner will be announced at a luncheon May 8th, we get to display this cool sticker you see above! And if we are really lucky (and today we do have the luck of the Irish with us!), we will be chosen winner and receive a $10,000 check from Sam's Club, one of the sponsors of the competition.

Not only is this thrilling for my husband, Jay and I, it's a fantastic honor for our business, staff and for the City of Wichita. We are thrilled to represent the mid-west in D.C.

So that's what happened this week. I do have another little surprise up my sleeve, so stay tuned. Until next your passions!