Name: Steve Lawrence
Business: The Chocolate Maker’s Studio
Chocolatier Steve Lawrence has been in the food business since he got his first job as a pot washer in a restaurant as a teenager. Now he’s risen to the top, with his own fine chocolate business! We were able to grab a few sweet moments with Steve to talk about his growing business, the science of chocolate and how much his wife loves his job.
How did you get into the chocolate business?
Many years ago, I was a pastry chef. I’d always enjoyed working with chocolate but found it challenging. For such a simple food, chocolate is very complex in the way it responds to time and temperature and movement. When my wife and I moved in the 1990s, I went to work for another chocolatier. I was intimately involved in the chocolate production, which made it clear to me that chocolate is where I wanted to focus my career.
What has been your biggest challenge?
That you can't do everything by yourself and expect everything to be done well. Most artisans like to focus on their craft, not on the business side.
Do you have any employees?
During busy seasons, like Valentine’s or Christmas, I'll bring in someone to do packaging, but I don't have any full-time employees yet. As business has increased dramatically over the past 2 years, it's become clear I'll have to make the transition to becoming an employer soon.
When was the moment you knew your business was a success?
The Chocolate Makers Studio has existed since 2008, but I knew after returning to home 2.5 years ago that things were taking off.
I first started the company selling my chocolates at a lovely local farmers market. When my wife got a new job at the University of Texas and we moved to Austin, my first really big account was with Antonelli's Cheese Shop which has a section of curated, mostly local, fine foods. Austin is a foodie town, so other speciality stores were paying attention to what Antonelli's carried, and that really helped things take off. Antonelli’s still carries my Salted Brown Butter Texas Pecan Brittle Bar and my Salted Caramel bars.
I started shipping chocolates to Portland's own Cacao, a speciality chocolate shop, which brought attention to my brand in the Northwest. We had the opportunity to move back to Portland when my wife got hired by the University of Oregon. Portland is a city that loves food, local producers and curated food shops.
It sounds like your wife’s career took you and your chocolate all over the US! How excited is your wife to be married to a chocolatier?
She does know that rejects come home with me because even if they’re not perfect, they are certainly edible! She can tell when things are going well at the studio because there isn’t a pile of rejected chocolate on the dining room table.
It’s almost Valentine’s Day, a very busy time of year for you. How do you show love to your customers, and how do they show love to you?
I do a fair amount of events where I sample chocolate to people and it’s fun to interact and talk about the technical aspects of making it. The science behind chocolate making really is intriguing for a lot of people. I do an event at a local winery, and there I can do some one-on-one in a retail setting which is fun. People are excited to see it and learn about it -- and eat it, of course.
What’s next for The Chocolate Maker’s Studio?
I have big plans for expansion this year. I want to open a brick-and-mortar retail shop in Portland, as well as an online store.
Anything else you want to share about the life of a chocolatier?
Do I eat chocolate every day? Yes, I do!
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