Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Valerie Herskowitz, owner of The Chocolate Spectrum, located in Jupiter, FL, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Chocolate Spectrum is an artist and chocolate company with a twist: we train and employ individuals with autism. Not only do we teach these individuals the skills needed to make chocolate products, but they also learn customer service skills, business communication skills, and other important skills needed to be successful at work. We sell both in our retail shop and online. Our customers are virtually all chocolate lovers in the United States.
Tell us about yourself
I am a trained speech-language pathologist and have spent over 40 years working with individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities. Additionally, I am the mother of a 31-year-old son with severe autism. In 2010, I decided to go to school to learn to make pastries and chocolate and eventually became certified as a Chocolatier. Interestingly, around the same time, my son became very interested in the pastry world as well. Once he graduated high school in 2013, with no program available in our community, we decided to open up a chocolate company in my home. Eventually, we were joined by other individuals. One thing led to another, and in 2016 we opened up our shop in Jupiter, Florida, where we employ and train adults and teens with autism and other developmental disabilities.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
That’s hard to say because there have been so many challenges along the way. But I think our biggest accomplishment has been being able to establish an amazing apprenticeship program for both teens and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. Additionally, staying open during COVID was a great challenge and something we’re very proud of accomplishing. It wasn’t easy, and it still isn’t easy, but we are still here.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
I think people have a glorified idea of what it’s like to be a business owner. I never imagine the cost and expenses you incur when you own bricks and mortar establishment. Every business owner I know underestimates these costs. Secondly, you are working 24 hours a day because you dream about your business and what you need to do even when you sleep. In my case, since I’m in the chocolate business, I have sweet dreams. All kidding aside, there is always something to do. There are so many requirements, both administratively and daily store needs, that sometimes it’s overwhelming.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
Overestimate your start-up costs. Underestimate your first-year revenues. And stay out of the food business because it’s a very difficult business to be in. Unless you love the food you are producing, I do in my case.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
I feel extremely lucky that I was able to open and run this business for my son and for the other individuals that we work with. It is an overwhelming experience at times, especially at my age, but I was exceptionally grateful during COVID because it gave my son something to do on a daily basis. If we hadn’t had this business, he would’ve been home every single day after day because many of the programs stopped during that period of time.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email firstname.lastname@example.org; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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