Chocolate Therapy: How one woman turned chocolate's health benefits into a new kind of candy shop.
Julie Pech’s shop, The Chocolate Therapist, stresses the health benefits of chocolate with all-natural sweets.
In Charles Schulz’s The Peanuts, Lucy Van Pelt once declared, “All I really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt!”
Lucy’s sentiment is similar to The Chocolate Therapist’s guiding principles: that chocolate is good for you when incorporated properly into your life. After all, one of the shop’s mottos reads, “When in doubt, more dark chocolate.”
The Chocolate Therapist does chocolate a little different. Everything in the shop is made with natural ingredients. It uses organic flavoring oil to flavor its chocolates and coconut oil to soften the center, so it’s not too sugary.
“It comes from the inspiration of wanting to create an extraordinary-tasting chocolate that’s also good for you,” says Julie Pech, owner. “If I’m going to promote health benefits of chocolate, then the chocolate we’re going to produce is going to reflect that concept.”
It all began when Pech bailed on a career in the sporting goods industry to chase a passion-driven dream.
As a lifelong athlete who competed in gymnastics and skiing, Pech knows the importance of food and eating for performance. By coincidence, news of the health benefits of chocolate broke during her transition, and she decided to pick it up.
“I wanted to be an author, I wanted to write about nutrition,” she says. “I was like, ‘This is so fun. I love chocolate. This is the perfect way that I can combine two things that I enjoy.’”
In 2005, she published her first book, The Chocolate Therapist: A User’s Guide to the Extraordinary Health Benefits of Chocolate. From there, she started giving lectures about her book, speaking upwards of 20 presentations a month.
“After I’d done that for a couple of years, it occurred to me that I needed my own chocolate line,” she says. “I was promoting a lot of other brands and I thought, ‘Well, maybe I should have my own.’”
She hired a local company called Chocolates by Mary Carroll to start making chocolate bars for her, and ended up purchasing the shop in 2008. With the help of Carroll, who stayed on as a chocolatier, Pech trained up a new crew and renovated the recipes to reflect her book’s concept.
The shop has grown since then. Pech has added a coffee shop that plays a big part in driving business.
“Having the coffee gets people in the door,” she says. “We give a lot of samples away so once they’re in here, they’re like, ‘Wow. This is amazing chocolate. What are you doing different?’”
She also teaches chocolate and wine pairing classes in shop, which she sells on Groupon. There’s a technique to pairing the two and eating the chocolate with wine, and the tricks to both led Pech to her latest book, Dare to Pair: The Ultimate Guide to Chocolate and Wine Pairing.
“It’s chocolate, it’s wine. Get your friends together. It’s really fun, you’re going to laugh, you’re going to eat chocolate and drink wine,” she says. “There’s nothing you won’t love about it.”
The fact that both activities are so easy to enjoy explains why the classes are so popular, but it’s not just that. Customers love The Chocolate Therapist’s chocolates too.
“It goes really well with wine because of the clean ingredient profile and our commitment to that,” she says.
As for creating new treats for the shop, that’s something of a family business. Pech likes to bring home ingredients and experiment with her two kids, who have been helping her out in the kitchen since they were little. Now, her daughter is 19 and still has a hand in the experiments.
“We’ll add a drop of this, a drop of that,” says Pech. “When I find something I like, I bring it into the shop.”
The process usually doesn’t take long, maybe a week or two from conception to production as a test product in the shop. But Pech is careful about launching new items.
“I’d rather stay focused on what works really well,” she says. “Instead of having 8,000 products that do okay, I want to have 40 really well-pointed products that address specific markets.”
Her strategy seems to be working. Last year, her shop sold more than half a million chocolates. Right now, despite not being caught in a holiday season, she still finds herself selling out of products left and right.
It probably comes from her balance between developing flavor profiles that many people will enjoy and setting accessible prices. The Chocolate Therapist’s bars sell for $3.25 each, with prices cheaper per bar the more you get. And, Pech says, it works. They have people showing up to buy multiple bars all the time.
For now, though, Pech’s biggest project is setting up an off-site production facility to make chocolates for franchise shops. Her plan is to produce them at the facility and ship the finished chocolates to the stores.
“If we can get it out on a broad scale, with 100 percent certainty, I know people will love it,” she says.
For Pech, that’s the most important thing.
“My goal is to touch as many lives as possible in a positive way,” she says. “I think, through the book and the classes and the shop and our brand, we’re succeeding at that.”
Whenever she hears someone say that hers is the best chocolate they’ve ever had, she thinks she must be doing something right.
“For someone who’s making chocolate, that’s what you hope to hear,” she says.