Life and Religion
|Courtney Paul Chocolates inspired by travels, home|
|Entrepreneur shares inspiration behind chocolate bars|
|Published Thursday, November 21, 2013|
|Courtney Paul launched Courtney Paul Chocolates, a brand of designer chocolate bars, in December 2011.|
Courtney Paul had been baking up a business plan to sell her gourmet chocolate bars for nearly a decade, but it wasn’t until December of 2011 that she decided to put her plan into action and launched Courtney Paul Chocolates.
The Charlotte entrepreneur said her passion for chocolate was reignited when her job in corporate America sent her to Paris and Asia for a year. Those travels led Paul to experience the diverse, flavorful, rich and complex world of chocolate in an entirely new way.
In the following Q&A, Paul shares the inspiration behind her line of Queen City-themed chocolate bars – customized with a gold crown and named after Charlotte neighborhoods. She also discusses the most valuable lesson she’s learned thus far in business and what’s next for her brand. Some questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: You are known for using ingredients like Wasabi and Chipotle in your chocolates. How do you come up with the concepts for your recipes and make them taste so good?
A: The inspiration sometimes comes from people I talk to or people I meet. The idea for the Chipotle chocolate actually came from a friend of my husband. He was like, “Courtney, you’ve got to make me something spicy. I really love spicy.” So I tried like 15 different types of peppers. We literally mixed chocolate and pepper and sweetener in the palm of my hand until I thought that I’d found a combination that worked. And then I experimented with it… Once I found something that worked, I went in to production with it.
Q: You’ve said that the chocolate bars are your art. How so?
A: Chocolate is my way of expressing myself. I always tell people that you can probably walk through my life and the people in my life through my chocolate bars. The wasabi was inspired by the time I spent in Asia. The packaging is entirely inspired by the time I spent in Asia… The Pecan Coconut is an homage to my grandmother. I grew up eating a lot of pecans with her and its selfishly named after Plaza Midwood because that’s where I live… You can walk through every aspect of my life in some form through the bars.
Q: How did the concept for a line of chocolate bars named after the different neighborhoods in Charlotte come about?
A: I think that actually came from Ms. Emma, who used to work at the Charlotte Visitor’s Info Center in Uptown. She came up with this idea of using the gold crown and representing the neighborhoods…
Q: So does Ms. Emma get all the free chocolate she wants?
A: Ms. Emma gets lots of love (laughter). My whole family has met Ms. Emma. She retired back in June.
Q: Making chocolate bars began as a passion and hobby for you. How and why did you transition into doing it fulltime as a business?
A: I don’t even know the how and why. I just had a vision that I figured out. I pulled it together and just started rolling with it… I just knew that at the end of my life, I didn’t want to look back and say that I never took a real swing at this. I started in December 2011. I started at the Southern Christmas Show, and I started with a bang.
Q: What has been the most valuable lesson that you have learned about business from experience as an entrepreneur?
A: To take my time and to do things on my own time, not anyone else’s schedule or expectations.
Q: How is business? Has it been profitable?
A: I wouldn’t necessarily say that we are profitable. We are growing, and we are moving in the right direction… There was a lot of investment up front – the chocolates, the packaging and I sourced a lot of different things from different countries. Almost every bar contains chocolate from a different cocoa-producing region. But I will say that we are exactly where we thought we should be at this time in terms of our numbers. So we are not disappointed with our numbers at all.
Q: How do you decide which regions to source your chocolate from? What difference does it make?
A: Each cocoa-producing region has a different profile. Like the cranberry bar is made from chocolate from the Caribbean. If you were to just taste that chocolate by itself, it almost tastes like it has dried cherries. So the cranberry pairs perfectly well with that one. Whereas, if you switch to the Chipotle bar, that chocolate is from Equador and by itself is very smooth and very balanced. It doesn’t have any sweetness or fruit notes to it at all. So that’s why it can take on the Chipotle and the vanilla bean. I can layer flavors on top of without creating a conflict. If I took Chipotle and paired it with the Caribbean chocolate, it wouldn’t taste so great. It’s the same concept of wine and coffee. When you get it from different places, it tastes different.
Q: Do you have any tips on pairing your chocolates with wine?
A: You probably need something smooth and balanced. I wouldn’t suggest something like a merlot. I think it would be too over powering. Pinot Nior is always a nice pairing because it allows your palette to pick up the chocolate and the wine. And dark chocolates go good with white wine.
|Paul's chocolate bars, which retail for about $10 each, are wrapped like gifts. The Charlotte entrepreneur said the concept was inspired by her travels in Asia.|
Q: You said your travels to Asia and France heavily influenced your chocolate bar line. How so?
A: It influenced it in every way. When I was in France, I remember walking around the chocolate shops and meeting with the distributors there. So a lot of the chocolates come from other countries through France and on to me. All of the packaging is totally influenced by my time in Asia. There, giving a gift is very important. It’s important in America too, but there it’s like really serious. They are more conscious of the colors and flowers used as gifts. That just made me look at packaging in a whole different way. And the flavors, I always try to keep them inspired by my home, friends and family.
Q: What else is in store for Courtney Paul Chocolates?
A: We are in Whole Foods now. We’ve been there just a couple of weeks, and that’s been going really well. Sometime [before the end of the year], you are going to see a milk chocolate bar that will be exclusive to the Visitor Information Center. It will be first milk chocolate bar. We are also going to be doing a whole series with the Levine Museum of the New South to represent the exhibits at the museum. It will feature special labels that represent various eras of the South that align to their exhibits. The line will be available soon, just in time for the holidays. We’re also launching a new website in just a couple of weeks.
Visit CourtneyPaulChocolates.com or call (704) 629-8824 to place orders or for more information.
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