Established: November 2007
Employees: One part-time plus seasonal extra
Delicious artesan chocolates
Running a business is nothing new for Jill-Marie and Jean-Michel Carré. After successfully operating a restaurant in France for 11 years, the Carrés dreamed of opening a chocolaterie in California. They fell in love with Carpinteria and quickly secured the location and supplies needed to set up shop, with a goal of opening their doors within one year of closing their restaurant in France.
Despite all their business experience and savings, Jill-Marie and Jean-Michel were turned down from bank loans because they did not have credit in the U.S. They were able to get a loan through WEV’s Small Business Loan Fund, and Chocolats du Calibressan opened for business on November 19, 2007 – exactly one year after closing the restaurant in France.
What prompted you to go into business for yourself?
This is not our first business together. We created a restaurant in France, running it successfully for 11 years until our move back to the U.S. It is hard to conceive of working for someone else when you have the talent, energy and desire to be self-employed. In my early twenties I had a taste of running my own business and it stayed with me. I love the freedom to make my own choices—good or bad, always learning for the next steps.
What has been your biggest business challenge?
Our biggest business challenge has been dealing with tight cash flow.
What has been your biggest business success?
Our biggest business success is hearing positive feedback from clients. Every time someone tastes one of our chocolates and exclaims they have never tasted anything as good, when we have referrals from clients, when potential clients search us out because they read something about us - it is the clients that give us the success we enjoy, therefore they are our biggest success.
Who is your ideal customer?
Our ideal customer is anyone, any age who appreciates a fine chocolate, the work and the love that goes into each piece, and savors every taste.
What has been the biggest surprise about owning a business?
The biggest surprise in owning my own business is something I learned at an early age…..It is NOT as glamorous and easy as one might think!
How do you juggle all the pieces of your life (family/work/self/volunteering) to make it all come together?
Juggling all aspects of life in general while owning my own business is something I will always find difficult. Until they can add several more hours in a day, I will continue to wonder where the hours went!
What advice do you offer other women who might want to start their own company?
To women who are interested in owning their own business my advice would be….GO! If you have a passion, and you believe in it…BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. When you believe in what you are doing—others believe in you, too. Confidence in oneself and one's business is very catching and a confidence that can sell. Try it. Step out on that limb and go for your dream. If you don’t, you will always wonder “what if?” This wasted energy could be put to positive use for your future.
What advice do you offer other couples that might want to start a business together?
You need to have a lot of patience and discussion, even when you are busy. Have a specific role for each person. When two people are doing the same thing, there are too many heads butting. You should also be in the business as an employee before starting a business, so you really know what’s involved (especially in the food industry).
How did WEV help you to achieve your goal or dream?
WEV was a lifesaver for us as we were setting up and preparing to open our doors for business.
As excited as we were for returning to the U.S. we really did not do our homework on the banking atmosphere. We automatically assumed (something I never do anymore) that having the money from the sale of our home and restaurant, plus over 20 years experience in running or owning a business, would help us. When it came time to go to the bank and get a loan, we were very surprised. Bank after bank refused us as we had no “credit” in the U.S. I had been abroad a long time, but I was under the impression that not owing was a good thing! That followed everything we did. We were required to pay cash for our cars and leave a 6-8 month deposit when we rented for private and business.
We closed the doors of our restaurant in France in November 2006. We gave ourselves a personal goal of one year to re-open our doors for the next business. We were not 100% certain if we were going to open a restaurant, a bed-and-breakfast, or a Chocolaterie. After 30 years of restaurants—we decided against this route. We also checked out bed-and-breakfast places for sale, but always came back to our idea of making chocolates.
We looked for our ideal location from San Diego to Napa Valley. Having loved Santa Barbara and Carpinteria, we chose the latter and found a location where we had a large kitchen space and did not pay top dollar on a main street. We put our “many months” down to secure both personal and business location and immediately started setting up shop. We ordered chocolate cases to be created and installed for the front area.
One machine that we absolutely needed was an expensive European “enrobing” machine, a necessity for a “professional” chocolatier. Anyone who creates chocolates in the U.S and has one of these has waited for it from Europe. After paying cash for everything up until this point, there was NO WAY we could put this money out. It didn’t take long to realize that all the banks were not kidding about lending and it only got worse as the mortgage situation rose. Someone recommended WEV.
I asked for a meeting “just to talk,” and it turned in to a long talk. We brought in all our information from our previous business, write-ups, financials …well everything! We kept talking and even though we had not opened our doors yet or made any chocolate at our new business, Jean-Michel made some for them. We didn’t have our packaging ready but we brought in the samples and left them for the “taste test.”
With our determination, background, talent, WEV generously agreed to loan us the money for this machine. This machine is the difference in us making 500 chocolates in a day to 2500 chocolates in 4 hours! This of course allows us to be more prepared to work with restaurants, hotels or anyone who would like chocolates in bulk, allowing us to also have time to stock our front for all walk-in clientele.
We DID open for business on November 19, 2007, exactly one year after we closed our restaurant in France!
Is there something you learned from WEV that you use every day?
Don’t give up!
What is the biggest reward you get from your business? What makes it all worthwhile?
The biggest reward from our business is to see how someone’s face lights up with their eyes closed while trying one of our chocolates. A simple “UMMMMMMM” makes it all worthwhile!
How do you picture you and your business in: one year? 5 years? 10 years?
We were happy with our first year - we made some very good first steps. Quite frankly the second year hurt a lot. Now working on the third year, we are seeing that a preview for 5 years is looking very good. If it continues as it is, in 10 years we are going to be doing better than previously projected.
Is your business being affected by the economy now? And what are you doing to deal with this challenge?
Our business was affected by the economy. That is certain. We are still feeling it. However, by now we have seen what IS working for us and we are putting a lot of energy into this. In the end game you may find that where you thought you had a strong market is not so and you have to change that game plan. When the economy starts to really climb again we can go back to certain clients and hopefully add them on board. For right now, all my energy is concentrating on those who are receptive.
Photography courtesy of Maria Carreras Photography: www.mariacarrerasphotography.com