Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Rob Mackenzie, COO of Chocolat de Kat, located in Toronto, ON, Canada.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
We're an artisan chocolatier based in Toronto, with a retail shop in the St. Clair West neighbourhood. We ship our product North America-wide in boxes of 4, 9, and 25.
CDK's chocolates are known for tasting as good as they look. Our punchy flavours actually taste like what they are – biting into one of our key lime pie bon bons is like biting into a piece of key lime pie!
Our customers tend to be foodies who appreciate our visual aesthetic and people who like to send unique and thoughtful gifts. Also, our customization options have been very popular lately for weddings and corporate gifts.
Tell us about yourself
In terms of getting my start in this business, I married into it! My wife started it as a one-person lifestyle business back in 2018. She had a small kitchen and partnered with a friend who opened a coffee shop in the front. I was a regular of the coffee shop because I opened a gym next door in the same year. We started dating in 2019. When Covid hit, my gym business went to zero, but the chocolate business took off.
I have an MBA, and my background is in sales, marketing, and corporate innovation, but the truth is I've always been an entrepreneur in search of a product. I got the entrepreneurship bug in my sophomore year of university when I took over a College Pro Painters franchise in my hometown. It took me a couple of years after we started dating to realize that I had my dream e-commerce business right under my nose!
It's fun running a business with my wife. I see how hard she works and how she leads the team, and I'm inspired to do the business and the product justice. I'm also incredibly motivated by just how enthusiastically people respond to our product—it's like we're doing people a favour by growing our business.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Having the humility to recognize when it was time for me to scale back on my own business to focus on helping my wife grow her own business. I had taken on debt for my MBA and for my previous business, so I had this psychological block around drawing an income from her business where I had to earn the income to service that debt "myself." Getting married and merging our finances made that idea redundant, and ironically it was the best financial decision we ever made.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
There's no one telling you what to do. That's also the best thing—if you're capable of handling it. You have to be comfortable with making your own decisions with limited information, juggling many priorities at once, and having no one but yourself to blame when things go wrong.
A common pitfall I see among a lot of entrepreneurs, myself and my wife included, is that being good at taking responsibility for everything can bias your attention towards problems and what's going wrong, at the cost of celebrating wins and noticing how far you've actually come. Thankfully my wife and I can keep each other in check!
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Don't start a business you'll hate working in every day.
- Join a community of entrepreneurs with a culture of being real with and helping each other.
- If your goal is to become a billionaire, you should reflect on why you want that and what you'd actually do if you achieved it. There's really nothing worth doing with a billion dollars that you can't do with a lot less money.
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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