For all true chocolate lovers out there who are constantly on the search for the purest of taste sensations and the highest quality ingredients, there is a new, proudly African brand that is getting people talking. Chocoloza, the brainchild of entrepreneur and passionate chocolatier, Vicki Bain, combines the best Belgian chocolate with the finest local, fresh African ingredients. The result is a taste sensation unlike anything else you will taste in the chocolate world.
LoA has spent many a pleasant hour or two with Vicki at her amazing workshop, sampling chocolates, unforgettable hot chocolate, and finding out more about this truly world-class brand and business.
What does your company do?
We offer our customers a unique indulgence. We make handmade Belgian chocolates at our workshop at 44 Stanley in Johannesburg, South Africa, where we also serve luxurious chocolate drinks in our chocolate lounge.
"Our chocolates are a unique taste experience, and you won't find anything like our chocolate lounge elsewhere."
What inspired you to start your company?
I was in a beautiful bookcafe in Leuven, Belgium - a place where you could sit in a comfy armchair and read; have a coffee, some cake, or some chocolates. A place to relax and come back down to earth. Not having a sweet tooth I was amazed by how good the lemon meringue pie was, and asked where it came from. When I found the shop that sold it, I discovered that they made such beautiful, delicious chocolates that I loved the taste of - I normally find them too sweet. The difference was that they were made fresh, with fresh ingredients and no preservatives and very little sugar. That gave them a much shorter shelf life but the taste was incomparable.
When I later saw an opportunity to join an evening course in Brussels learning how to make chocolates, I just thought it would be fun. I then fell so in love with the process, which is a perfect combination between art and science, that a one-night a week evening for my own entertainment quickly turned into me giving up my corporate job at an environmental consulting firm in Brussels to pursue it further. The timing was perfect with my husband and I wanting to move back to South Africa, and I saw it as a gap in the market in Johannesburg, a place which is African and fun and welcoming - not larney or exclusive or pretentious. Just pure chocolate indulgences made with passion, and served in an environment where people could relax and enjoy the whole experience.
Why should anyone use your service or product?
Because our chocolates are a unique taste experience, and you won't find anything like our chocolate lounge elsewhere. Our chocolates and drinks are made fresh, with no artificial flavourings, preservatives or palm oil. They are created not just with excellent Belgian chocolate, but also with carefully sourced local ingredients - fresh organic limes, organic cream and milk; fair trade organic coffee; fresh ginger and basil - we use as much local and organic produce as possible when we create our chocolates and we pay careful attention to environmental and social concerns.
"Our chocolates and drinks are made fresh, with no artificial flavourings, preservatives or palm oil. They are created not just with excellent Belgian chocolate, but also with carefully sourced local ingredients - fresh organic limes, organic cream and milk; fair trade organic coffee; and fresh ginger and basil."
Tell us a little about your team
We are a close team, and when I recruit I look first and foremost for people who will work well together. Skills can always be taught, but personality and compatibility can't.
We are women from all over this beautiful continent. Loveness, a gentle and wonderful Malawian woman who used to work as a domestic worker but now creates among others our beautiful Madagascar Marble chocolates. Bronwyn, a bubbly and outgoing sales person (originally from Zimbabwe) who when she is not making customers feel welcome is tempering chocolate or making our ganaches. Amukelani, who joined us recently, another South African who originally wanted to join the police force but - luckily for us - is now our coffee-making guru who learnt very quickly how to create our chocolates. She is incredibly determined to learn and a joy to work with. We also have Penny and Andrea, two sisters from Durban who fit perfectly with the team and jump in wherever needed, be it helping customers or whipping up creations in the workshop.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
I don't come from an an entrepreneurial background at all, and have never run any sort of business before. I was the first woman in my family to get a university degree, and I'd always been in the corporate world. When I decided to start Chocoloza, it was a jump in the deep end. I had plenty of operations management experience from my corporate career, but nothing in retail or running my own business. And because I didn't want to be influenced - even subconsciously - I deliberately blinkered myself from what other chocolatiers or other confectionery/coffee places were doing in South Africa, and just went with what I wanted to do. I knew exactly what I wanted Chocoloza to look and feel like, and just went for that.
"I want to establish my brand as the best handmade chocolate company in South Africa."
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
I want to establish my brand as the best handmade chocolate company in South Africa. That will involve additional retail outlets not just to sell but also to have the full 3-in-1 experience of being able to see the chocolates being made, being able to relax in a chocolate lounge and also select your chocolates to take home with you. I also want our business customers to know that they are getting an established, high quality brand when they buy our chocolates.
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
When a customer tells me that my chocolates are the best they have ever tasted, or that they love the space and it feels fun and homely - my heart soars. When my staff tell me that they love what they do, or when a supplier tells me that they love delivering to us. That gives a satisfaction that far outweighs any I've had in my corporate career.
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
Trust your instinct. Follow your passion - plan in detail but don't let anyone sway you from your plans.
Contact or follow Chocoloza
Why LoA loves it….
In the business world, one of the most difficult challenges is to create something truly unique, something that can stand out from the crowd and connect with customers on a number of levels. Yet, in the world of chocolate, entrepreneur and passionate chocolatier, Vicki Bain, has managed to do just that. Her products are truly world class, lovingly made by hand and with real attention to detail - what makes them stand out is that they combine the best of global and proudly African ingredients, creating an experience that is genuinely unique, but very much of the continent that she calls home. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and editor-in-chief of Lionesses of Africa