Spare moments for most of us are time to reflect. Time to sit back and take it all in. Relax.
For others, they’re a time to dream up new and wonderful things. Like chocolate.
For Lacey Redding, spare moments are fleeting. But that doesn’t mean when the wife and mother of three has one she doesn’t try to fill it. A recent moment of downtime for Lacey launched a business and a whole new career as a chocolatier.
It was an innocent lunch break phone call that eventually led Lacey and her husband, Charlie, to launch Church Street Chocolate out of their modest Lynnwood home in March. The two now sell chocolate bars in a number of Washington boutique gift and coffee shops, including Narrative Coffee in Everett, and will soon be selling them across the United States and Canada.
“I’m a little shocked at how well it’s gone,” said Charlie, who, at 29, is a veteran entrepreneur, having started photography and property management businesses prior to helping Lacey launch their new adventure. “We have our blood, sweat and tears in this, so it’s validating to hear that people love it so much.”
The Reddings work out of a production kitchen at 21 Acres Center in Woodinville and make their chocolate bars from some of the rarest chocolate in the world. Maranon Chocolate’s Fortunato No. 4 is from Peru and was considered to be extinct until rediscovered a decade ago.
The single-origin chocolate was the most expensive chocolate of about 20 varieties the husband and wife team tried when deciding on which to make their base chocolate. The two were not only blown away by the quality of chocolate, but also felt it would make a perfect base for the type of inclusions they wanted to use in their bars, such as ginger, fennel and honey.
“We just thought if we’re not going to do it right, let’s not do it,” said Lacey, who is 33. “I guess I just thought if our business goes under, we’ll just have a bunch of this chocolate I love.”
Going from bored housewife to chocolatier isn’t a straight line. It began with the aforementioned lunch break phone call. Working in the finance department at a bank, Charlie called home to check in on Lacey and their children, then just the two boys, Judah and Ransom. Despite her motherly duties, she was feeling a bit stir crazy.
“I said, ‘The house is clean, dinner is ready, the kids are fine, I don’t know what to do,’ ” Lacey said. “I asked him, ‘What’s the point of my life?’ ”
“I think you’re just bored,” Charlie answered.
Charlie had more than an evaluation; he had a solution. He suggested Lacey learn how to make chocolate. So she looked up chocolate classes and signed up for Ecole Chocolat’s chocolatier classes that night. The chocolate school had a Vancouver, B.C., branch, and Lacey could learn from home while she juggled kids.
While she signed up just to learn how to be a chocolatier, Lacey didn’t realize that Ecole Chocolat’s program was about more than just tempering chocolate and bar-making.
“Part of the class was giving you all of these resources to start a business,” Lacey said. “They taught me everything I needed to know, from distribution to packaging and how to run a business.”
So the Reddings started a business. Charlie, with the business acumen, wrote up a business plan and created “spreadsheets upon spreadsheets” to figure out how the business could pencil-out. They turned a closet in the house into a “warehouse” for their giant slabs of Peruvian chocolate and started cold-calling shops to see who might be interested in stocking their chocolate.
Lacey, meanwhile, perfected the finicky process of tempering chocolate. To get the perfect snap, chocolate must be poured during a 5-degree window between 92 and 87 degrees. That’s after it’s raised to 119 degrees to melt and then dropped to 92, forcing chocolatiers to hustle all of that melted chocolate into molds as the temperature plummets.
“We’ve had days when the temper was off and all the bars were ruined,” said Charlie, who has taken over much of the chocolate-making duties from Lacey since she gave birth to the couple’s third child, Jane, this summer. “The temperature in the kitchen matters, the temperature outside matters, the humidity matters. It’s been a learning experience.”
One thing the Reddings learned early on is having great chocolate is only part of creating a strong chocolate business. Packaging is also key.
“You could make the best chocolate in the world, but if it’s in a brown paper bag, no one is going to buy it,” Charlie said.
The couple had a number of designs sketched out but couldn’t nail one down. Then Lacey happened upon a company she found on Etsy that made hand-screened wrapping paper. Charlie looked over her shoulder and recognized the name. The New Jersey printer, Cordes Printing, is owned by Cliff Cordes, who Charlie went to school with in Switzerland.
“I was like, ‘I know the guy who owns that shop and had Thanksgiving dinner with his family a decade ago. I have his number right here,’ ” Charlie said. “I sent him this crazy email and flew out there soon after.”
Cordes not only does their printing, but also he did much of their logo design. The serendipitous turn became a funny story to tell — and just what the Reddings were looking for.
“I love how it happened, but I love our packaging even more than that,” Lacey said. “It’s exactly what we wanted.”
Growth has been quick for Church Street Chocolates, with Lacey and Charlie struggling to keep up with demand as they regularly ship hundreds of bars to dozens of shops. And it seems Lacey isn’t the only one who isn’t great with boredom: Charlie recently started going back to school to become a data scientist.
Church Street Chocolate
Church Street Chocolate sells four bars — Fortunato No. 4, Ginger & Fennel, Northwest Honey and Frankincense & Gold — through its website for $12. They can also be purchased at more than a dozen stores in Washington, including Everett’s Narrative Coffee and Seattle’s E. Smith Mercantile. For a full list of stores, visit www.churchstreetchocolate.com/stockists.