Former educator opens chocolate shop in Chicago
My Chocolate Soul founder Ramona Thomas shares passion for sweets in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood.
January 18, 2017
Ramona Thomas has a sweet tooth — and she’s not shy about it.
The Bronx, New York, native adored candy as a child, and in her early 20s, she took up baking from scratch.
“I’ve always loved sweets,” she says. “I’m one of those people who eats dessert every day.”
But when Thomas, who now lives in Chicago, examined candy labels a few years ago, she became frustrated by not recognizing all the listed ingredients. To her, that didn’t seem right.
“How is it that very simple things get so complicated?” she asked.
After an introductory pastry course at The French Pastry School, Thomas knew what she wanted to do. She put plans in motion to develop an all-natural sweets business. Given her background, a bakery made the most sense.
However, enrolling in Barry Callebaut’s Chocolate Academy — which offered a series of courses for budding chocolatiers, pastry chefs and bakers —changed Thomas’ direction.
“I loved it,” she said. “It kind of unlocked this hidden gift for making chocolate.”
Thomas has put her gift to good use. She launched My Chocolate Soul online in 2011, developing all-natural products in shared kitchens and earning business from a wide network of contacts made during her 18 years in the education field.
Her client base later grew to include small businesses, nonprofit organizations and Fortune 500 companies, and her chocolates were featured in gift bags for the 2014 ESPYs and the 2015 NBA All-Star VIPs.
Thomas says her company’s name, which illustrates her passion for chocolate, is also relatable to customers.
“When people experience our chocolate — even just for a few seconds — they’re in a different place and they’re happy,” she says. “I wanted the name to reflect all of those things — joy, excitement, happiness and peace.”
Thomas hopes the name and her sweets will continue to resonate in a brick-and-mortar location in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. She and the company’s five employees celebrated My Chocolate Soul’s move — and the company’s sixth anniversary — with a grand opening on Saturday.
“We are super excited,” Thomas says. “It’s been a really long time coming. We’re really happy to be in that community, and we’re really happy with the space, too.”
After a different lease in Uptown fell through, My Chocolate Soul set up shop in a 900-sq.-ft. storefront in Wilson Yard, a development anchored by Target, in December. Thomas said the space was completely unfinished, requiring plenty of new construction to make it feel like customers were walking into her home.
Still, Thomas knew it would fit her vision.
“Even raw, I could see what it would look like finished,” she says. “In many ways, I feel like Uptown picked me or chose My Chocolate Soul.”
And Uptown is glad to have them. Chocolate truffles and chocolate-covered strawberries flew from the shop’s display case during Saturday’s grand opening. Thomas said employees had to open pre-packaged boxes to have enough treats for eager customers, who also sampled the truffles and almond buttercream cake on hand.
“It has really been very humbling,” she says. “The community has embraced us wholeheartedly. I hope people see us as really great business partner, but also as a great business that adds to the community.”