The Chocolate Life

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Hi all,

I have now been open for about 6 months and it has been going great. I am starting to bring in a new part time person, and as I have been training her, I have been mentally evaluating our level of efficiency so far. I have some questions I am posing below, and I'd love to hear from some other shop owners...I am operating with two kitchens(This actually slows me down, but is necessary as I am a Kosher shop) and a retail space(which also slows down as we have to handle retail customers at the same time as we are making chocolate. We are working with a JKV in one kitchen and a ACMC in the 2nd kitchen(our dairy free which is much busier than our dairy kitchen, but I am unable to transfer the larger machine.) Our efficiency is also definitely hampered by the fact that I only have 1 machine in my dairy kitchen and it is too large to change out every day. We mainly keep milk in it and hand temper white/dark or bring dark up from the dairy free kitchen. 

1) How many pretzels can you or your staff dip an hour? Other items like oreos and graham crackers? 

2) How quickly do you turn around average custom orders(not events, just someone wanted a custom version of something you may already offer?)

3) Who offers baked goods in addition to your regular chocolates? What types? I offer Muffins, Cookies, and Brownies and I feel there is quite a bit of waste. As I go into summer, I am thinking of offering more baked goods and less chocolate. 

3) How do you handle your variety. I do not normally offer items like buttercreams because I feel like they don't sell as much as pretzels. I make them on order, and offer a 24 hour turnaround(thinking of changing that to 48h) I know this is different for each person based on their customer base but would love to hear if anyone has a formula they have developed.

4) I normally have 3-4 varieties of handrolled truffles at a time. I don't have customers coming in for a dozen at a time and I can't afford yet to get so many different types of truffle containers...have you found a particular amount that has sold most frequently in your shop...2, 4, 6 etc..

5) Storing chocolates after made but before case...right now I have about a 1 wk supply on my chocolates. I wrap them in double saran wrap and place them them in plastic bins. This has been working really well in keeping the chocolates fresh but is incredibly inefficient and wasteful. How do you handle the in between stage? Any great suggestions?

Thanks in advance...Would love to hear feedback. Has anyone else recently opened? How has it been going for you? Challenges, Wins, Losses..etc...

Have a great day!


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Replies to This Discussion

I too have been working with all of your questions.  I have been working out of my first shop/kitchen for about a year now and am ready to open my first store-front in three months.  The questions you are asking are the same as I am.  While at home in my little shop, my biggest seller are my Tuffles.  My biggest demand is for the Dark Chocolate, because most of my customers are diabetics.  I offer 6 different varieties, with cream cheese as the base.  One batch makes around 50-60 truffles, and that's all that I make.  I pre-package at least half and then have the rest in the display case.  I picked up glass serving trays at my local Restore and keep the truffles on them while covering with plastic, then into a plastic tote they go.I converted an old frig and keep them in there over nite or right after making them, at about 50 degrees F.  So far, I've had no problems. 

I find that my pre-packaged truffles go faster than the open ones in the case.  My 4 packs are the best sellers.  I have 4 of one kind and a mix.  My mix goes the fastest. 

What part of the country are you in?  I'm in Northern Indiana.  How well do your pretzels, Oreos and other things sell?  I had been thinking of doing that...just to be different and not sell the norm.  I also do the creams, but they sell slow.  I have an up and down time with them. 

I thought about offering baked goods, but since I don't have a coffee bar, it would be slow.  If you have a lot of waste, don't make more of that product for the summer.  Make the same or less, but you could advertise it more.  Or, combine the two for a morning/break type of special.  A muffing for breakfast and two truffles for an afternoon snack during work.  Add some coffee beans, and you're good to go. 

I have a little advantage coming soon.  The building I am going into will have a coffee bar on the other side.  So, I will be able to offer both to each side.  I'm hoping it works.

My specialty orders are a 48 hr turnaround time.  that way, I know if I happen to get a crappy batch, I have time to work up a new one.

How do you like working with your machines?  I've been doing everything by hand, and it's getting crazy.  I've been reading the posts about tempering and melting machines.  what do you think about yours?

Hope to hear from anyone for advise and feedback!

Kristen Walker

Milkhouse Chocolates

Thanks Kristen! Good to hear from you. My more traditional items like Pretzels/oreos/barks do very well but it is hard to keep up a good variety as we make each batch by hand. My store is located on a major street in the suburbs of Philadelphia. 

For a year before I opened my store, I was doing everything by hand. It is very time consuming. In my dairy kitchen w/ my JKV machine it is amazing. I always have tempered chocolate ready. In my dairy free kitchen, I am using a tabletop machine as I look for a bigger one. It is still better than hand tempering BUT I am constantly re-tempering, which slows my production down. I am hoping to pick up a bigger machine for that kitchen and then move the tabletop to my dairy kitchen for my white chocolate. If you are opening a storefront, I think having  machines is necessary and well worth the investment. I bought only used machines which made it much more affordable. I am comfortable doing this because I have someone mechanical available to me who can help if something goes wacky. I also did a lot of research on my machine before I bought it. I think if you can stick to a machine w/ only 1 previous owner that is best. I also recommend an automated temperer as opposed to a melter. Mine are analog but I don't have to stand there and agitate the chocolate myself which is important in time management.

Good luck w/ your store! It's a lot of hard work but a lot of fun as well. Very rewarding. 




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