Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Blast from the Past--Christmas Parties

December is the month that we prepare for all year long. It’s a love-hate relationship leading up to Christmas with all of the early morning prep, the never-ending line of customers, making (what feels like) 100 hot chocolates a day and trying to stay on top of the chocolate inventory. Nevertheless, there is ironically always a sense of cheer during this month despite all the craziness. It’s sort of a month-long practice run for what Valentine’s Day will be in just a couple months. It’s literally a huge sigh of relief when Christmas Eve rolls around and we can finally relax.

The excitement comes a couple weeks later when we arrive at the Cocoa Dolce Christmas Party. This party is the main event of our year. It’s the first time we actually get to see our fellow workers with their hair down, a time to get both the kitchen and retail staff together, a time for delicious food, great drinks, touching speeches and awesome presents!

Even though I didn’t start working at Cocoa until after the first Christmas Party, I have seen it grow so much in the last 5 years. So much that we now have the entire backroom of Chester’s Chophouse instead of just a few tables lined up in the “normal” seating. It’s kind of like our own VIP party back there. We have expanded the party to fianc├ęs, husbands and wives and have introduced fun trivia and games, along with a raffle of prizes. It’s the perfect way to celebrate a year’s worth of accomplishments with the staff that helped get us to where we are today.  I’m looking forward to it already!

Until next time...that's Just a bit of Flavor!

Just trying to take a group picture takes more organizations!!  (2010)

One of the first Christmas Parties! 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Blast from the Past--Sitting at the Big Kid's Table

At every holiday gathering, when the entire family was over at the house, we were always at different tables. You know, the “adult table” and the “kid table”. My cousin’s and I were always so jealous of the adult table because it looked like they were always having so much fun. By the time some of us were old enough to sit at the “big kid’s table”, as we nicknamed the “adult table”, it was like our dinner tasted so much different. After all, we had finally made it to the Big Kid’s Table!!

In a similar story, we (Cocoa Dolce) thought we had made it to the Big Kid’s Table (of the candy world) when we exhibited at the Fancy Food Show in January 2011. This is one of the major specialty food shows held in the United States. It has over 17,000 show attendees throughout the weekend with around 1,500 exhibitors. This was a big difference for our exhibiting past experiences here in Wichita.

The preparation for this show is crazy! We wanted to make sure we had enough literature and samples for everyone that may be interested in us. And, we didn’t want to look like we had just pulled our booth display out of the trunk of our car…so, we went through the process of getting a custom display made.

So, we were off to the show in San Francisco.

Luckily, our hotel was just a couple blocks away from where the show was held. I mention this because we had to carry all of our display pieces, samples and literature to the show. And here’s the “kicker”, we literally had to CARRY everything. There was some rule about not using any rolling items. So, here we are, looking like the Clampit’s from Beverly Hillbiliies, carrying boxes and display pieces down this street in San Francisco. Yep…we really looked cool!

Within a few hours, our booth was ready to go. The show lasted 3 days. We got several compliments on our booth, our colors and even our staff clothing. Whether it was the main food buyer at Nordstrom’s or a local coffee shop owner in Massachusetts….we talked to everyone that walked by.

We went into this trip hoping we would make some great connections with different vendors and potential customers. Although we didn’t catch our “big break”, it was a great first time experience of exhibiting at a major candy show…and sitting at the “Big Kids Table”.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Blast from the Past--President Obama

*#$% Oprah, Let’s Go to the White House!

One of the challenges of promoting a small business is getting your product or service in front of influence-makers, whether they are local or more well-known.  Such had been our practice of routinely sending media kits and samples to celebrities, newspapers and magazines.  And one celebrity in particular had been on our radar since our opening.  You guessed it; we wanted Oprah Winfrey to taste our chocolates.  After several failed attempts, one day I said, @#&! Oprah, let’s go to the White House!

Fortunately, I said that to a friend of mine, Judge Richard Green.  Judge Green is the Chief Justice for the Kansas Court of Appeals and a good friend of our former governor, Kathleen Sebelius.  In fact, then Governor Sebelius appointed Judge Green to the bench.  All it took was a little wine and brainstorming and we were on our way!  Richard dropped a letter to Secretary Sebelius and asked if she could lend a hand in presenting chocolates to the White House.

Not only was she thrilled to lend a hand, she offered to hand-deliver our goodies to the President of the United States at the first cabinet meeting of the New Year.  Needless to say, we were thrilled beyond belief!  And so the waiting and planning began—what should we send?  How much chocolate?  After much thought and research, we decided to send a box of our assorted chocolates along with several boxes of Grey Salt Caramels and a Chocolate Survival Kit for Michele and the kids (why not?). 

We formulated a letter of congratulations to President Obama on the anniversary of his inauguration and threw our hat in the ring to be the Official Chocolatier to the White House!  Richard Green drove our goodie bag and letter to Topeka and personally delivered the package to Secretary Sebelius the week after Christmas.  About two days after her arrival in Washington, Richard got a call from her staffers informing him that the chocolates had been delivered.  Not only that, they were so well-received that President Obama requested an official White House photo of the event.
We could not have been happier!  And the waiting began in earnest!  Finally, in late April Richard dropped off the most amazing envelope we had ever seen.  Inside were a lovely handwritten note from Secretary Sebelius and a very official envelope from the White House.  The envelope contained a wonderful photo of the president with the inscription, “Beth, thanks for the chocolates!  Barack Obama”.

I’m not sure about you, but that was one of the coolest gifts I’ve ever received.  How many of us can say that the leader of the Free World took a moment to write a personal thank you to them?  I can tell you, not many!  We proudly display the photo on our ‘brag wall’ and continue to hold out hope that maybe, just maybe we will be appointed Official Chocolatier to the White House!

Remember, unless you dream it, you can’t realize it!  Dream Big!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Blast from the Past--Dean and Deluca

This “Blast from the Past” series was an idea to catch up on some amazing things that has happened to Cocoa Dolce the past few years. One of these great stories is when we were featured in the Dean and Deluca’s Halloween Catalog. The story follows…

If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again!

At one point, we had been asked to submit some of our chocolates for review by the Chocolate buyer with Dean and Deluca. We were all elated at this opportunity. The company (Dean and Deluca) had always been a subject of interest with Beth. So, when we were asked to “try-out” we were all so excited!

This excitement helped “fuel the fire” in making an assortment of chocolates for review. Since we had never been asked to do this before, we apparently over-shot this a little. I guess they buyer had wanted just a sampling of our chocolates. Instead, they received a sample of almost everything we made. Little did we know, when they ask for a small assortment that’s what they really wanted. Oops!! The feedback was mixed. The flavors were good but the size of the chocolates were a little too big..among other comments. All in all, it was constructive criticism that helped us get better.

After a little while, we had one of our regular customers send a gift to Leslie Rudd, the owner of Dean and Deluca. After he tried our chocolates, he wanted us! We were a HIT! Our product “Cranky Jack-O-Lanterns” was added to the 2008 Halloween catalog. And, here’s the best part…we were the #1 seller the week before Halloween! All of our hard work had paid off!

Lucky for you, these little “cranky” creations are still a big seller at our retail location in Bradley Fair.

And...that's the Sweet Stuff!!

The front of the Halloween Catalog

The Back: to include our "Cranky Jack-O-Lanterns"