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Small Business Epic Story
Chocolate is Bernard's passion. His new company, Master Chocolat, is about new beginnings. This not only means starting from scratch, but also taking the time to improve his 27 years in the craft. Through his time at Bernard Callebaut company, Bernard has become a highly recognized chocolatier in Alberta, and although he has lost his old company, he continues to see support from past clientele.
Every chocolate is created with the idea of giving the customer the best and purest possible product for their dollar. They are 95% organic, with very low amounts of sugar in the fillings. In fact, most fillings have no added sugar at all.
Bernard is a big fan of Winston Churchill and his quote which is to never, never, never give up. It has resonated with his experiences in the last 8 years. Through hardship, Bernard has learned to see an opportunity in any situation, whether good or bad.
2.5 years since opening, Master Chocolat continues to see growth, with a booth at Calgary Farmer's Market and new products on the way.
1. What makes your business unique / stand out from competition?
We are an artisan chocolate company that makes truffles, bars, specialty items, and more. We offer all the traditional chocolate products, with 95% organic ingredients. Sugar is not a key ingredient in our products. Nowadays, there is too much sugar in our foods.
2. What is something that most people don’t know about your company?
I do not personally work at my old company, Bernard Callebaut, anymore. My time is spent here at Master Chocolat.
Also, our products are 95% organic.
3. On Success / Accomplishments
I am still reaching for success. My greatest accomplishment is finding the true passion in my life. I do a lot of talks to students and I always say, "if you find your passion, you are literally doing your hobby and getting paid for it". I am in a very fortunate position and wish everyone could do that. It makes life easier. My other success is my two boys and wife. During difficult times, they put things in perspective.
4. What is the single most important decision that contributed to success?
In the high-end food business, there are a couple things you need. First, knowledge of the business. If something is your passion, spend time to learn from the masters: people that know what they are doing. Knowledge is extremely important in our type of business. Second, surround yourself with people that complement you. Ultimately, a brand is built with a team of people.
5. What is the biggest obstacle you have faced while running the business?
Financing. We struggled because we were under financed. It has been a challenge, but ultimately, these are problems you can fix. Persistence is the key.
6. How has Calgary and its local market affected your business?
Calgary has always been my first choice for starting a business. When you lose your business in the road to recovery, you find out things you otherwise wouldn’t know. Over time, we have built a reputation here. Albertans have been extremely supportive of me. They are confident in my product because of my previous reputation.
7. How do employee benefits fit into what you’re trying to achieve as a small business owner?
Successful owners respect their staff and make it a pleasant work environment. We have great staff and ultimately, that makes showing up to work feel good, for me as well.
8. What’s next for Master Chocolat?
Currently, we are doing custom chocolates: client comes up with the idea and we make it. It can be co-branded or private label. We recently opened a booth in the Calgary Farmer’s Market off Blackfoot Trail and Heritage Drive and began offering wholesale options. We are also working on getting organic certified. Our next step is to open a retail store with a whole range of products. In the long run, we want to build a nationwide brand that stands for quality.
9. What is one thing you find to be true that most people would disagree with?
You can grow and also maintain quality. A lot of people don’t believe that. They think owners start cutting corners when they get big, although it can happen. When a family business gets taken over by larger companies, it becomes much more marketing-driven. The temptation (to cut corners) is there. If you are truly passionate, then you will keep improving.
Many businesses start cutting corners because they didn’t originally have a passion for the business. They look at the bottom line (instead). I was on Dragon’s Den two years ago. They gave me an offer but wanted 50.1%. I thought to myself, "I know they do not have the passion and ultimately, that can destroy the business." For example, they asked, "why buy organic cream that is $12 a liter? You can get more for cheaper." One compromise will lead to another. Ultimately, you will continue to cut corners and after 10 years, your product changes drastically.
10. How do you recharge when you are feeling drained?
Being with my family. Last week, the 4 of us were able to spend a full week together. Generally, either my wife or I am not at home. It was a nice little Easter break. Also, dinner with a glass of wine.
11. If you could time travel back to the first day working at your business and have 15 minutes with your former self to communicate any lessons you've acquired, what would you tell yourself?
Don’t force the growth. Stay in control.
12. How do you divide up your typical day (in percentages)?
This morning, we spent an hour on budget and planning for next year. As well, we tried out some new recipes. Then, I helped in production. I also devote time to research.
13. If you were to do some business venture again, what would you choose?
I would start a bankruptcy bank which helps passionate businesses get back on their feet.
If I had unlimited resources, I would love to help people who cannot afford an education. There’s too many people with great minds that lack resources. Education is the number one thing we can provide to children.
14. What is your dream collaboration?
I am currently collaborating with several great suppliers.
As dairy is a very important ingredient, I work with the absolute best cream producer in Alberta - Vital Green Farms. The owner is as passionate as I am for the end product. His 52% organic cream is ideal to make the best truffles and caramels.
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