Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Cristina Yen, Founder and Owner of A YEN for Chocolate, located in Portland, OR, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
A Yen for Chocolate is a one-person, one-bonbon-at-a-time business. I create collections using only the best chocolate and natural flavors. I rotate fillings seasonally for freshness, with the goal of bringing something delicious and unique into the life of every customer.
When I opened 12 years ago, I knew I did not want to become a large company with multiple employees and a huge business plan. Instead, I wanted to make the best chocolate I could, package it in a distinctive way, and provide personal service to every customer. I wanted to keep it small enough that it stayed true to my vision of handmade chocolate perfection. Chocolate has always made me happy, and my overarching business goal is for my chocolates to make my customers happy!
My customers keep me going - and they are everyone from the barista in the shop down the block to the person who wants to end the week with a treat for a loved one, a guest looking for a hostess gift, or the business that wants a special holiday gift for their clients or employees. Every day, it can literally be everything from one bonbon to hundreds of gift boxes. I have (at least) one thing in common with every customer: we all love chocolate!
Tell us about yourself
My dad was in Taiwan’s diplomatic service, and I grew up in Spain, Ecuador, and Brazil. Those early years gave me an education in diverse cultures, and I learned to speak five languages. That led me to a professional career in finance and risk management consulting. But, even though I was thrilled to use my language skills in a global environment, corporate life did not resonate with me. I needed something more creative.
When my husband and I relocated from the east coast to Portland, I rethought my career. I knew I wanted to do something that would allow me to incorporate my international background and bring people and cultures together. So - because nothing brings people together more than food - I went to culinary school!
Because I love sweets, I focused on Patisserie and Baking at Western Culinary Institute in Portland and during an internship at Fauchon in Paris. My “A Ha!” moment came when I made my first box of chocolates for a friend who needed comfort and consolation. Her smile when she opened the box made it clear that chocolate was my path. And, to this day, every smile I get from a customer reminds me I made the right decision.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I think every small business person with a dream questions the realistic possibility of making it work. I know I did. But, every year, I set a small goal or two, which can be creative or monetary (or both) - and most years, I make it! To be honest, there are days that drive me crazy - but I keep coming back for more because I really love bringing my chocolates to my customers.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
I think most small business owners will tell you that having to pivot quickly from one task or challenge to another is the hardest part. It is for me. One minute I’m creating a beautiful, delicious treat and feeling like an artist, and the next minute the phone rings, and there’s a supply chain problem, or my shipping software dies in the middle of packaging hundreds of boxes that need to go out that day. Every business owner wants to be in control, but sometimes it’s impossible. You just have to roll with it, find the priority of the moment, and strike the right balance between managing and micro-managing.
Some days are better than others - even when you’re surrounded by chocolate all day. Luckily, I feel pretty good at the end of most of my days. But don’t get me started on the challenges in December and around Valentine’s Day!
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Be honest with yourself about how hard you want to work. It’s your business and your decision.
- Find help when you need it. Don’t try to be the expert in every aspect of your business.
- Stop obsessing. Not everything can be 100% perfect.
- Work hard, and remember to play just as hard with the people you love.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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