SpringBoard Series: Shalini Latour, Chocolats Latour
Shalini Latour sells hand-crafted chocolates without artificial flavoring at Chocolats Latour, and includes fair-trade chocolates among her products. SpringBoard is ArtWorks business development program that targets artisans and creative entrepreneurs.
How did you start your business?
I’ve always loved Chocolate. My mom’s from Belgium, and I lived in Brussels as a teenager. I was a pastry chef for a long time, and a few years back I started to play with chocolate because a friend of mine wanted to open a chocolate shop in Cincinnati. His part never materialized, but I got started and never stopped.
What have you learned along the way?
My skills in working with chocolate have gotten a lot better. Chocolate is tricky because humidity and temperature affects it, but I’ve incorporated molding and hand painting chocolates over time. I’ve also learned a lot about running a business.
What was most challenging to learn?
Accounting and sales. Sales is a lot about presenting yourself and it was something I had no experience with. Selling it at farmer’s markets came naturally, but getting my products into grocery stores and shops is more challenging. You have to find the right person in the store, who decides what they’ll carry.
Then again, I’m really just presenting myself and giving people a lot of chocolate—nobody can be upset with me for that. Still, people who are retailers have a lot on their plate, so I keep in mind that even if they’re interested, they may not get back to me right away. It’s a fine line between following up with them and becoming a pest.
What Cincinnati resources did you take advantage of and how did they help?
I was a Bad Girl Ventures
finalist a couple years ago. That was hugely helpful because I had no idea what, say, a target market was or barriers to entry were. I was able to secure a small business loan with their help so that I could purchase some equipment.
This summer, I took the SpringBoard
course, which helped me focus on making sure my business can grow and is sustainable. It helped me look back at my costs and plan my future.
What’s next for you and your company?
I’m going to continue doing a lot of what I’m doing: farmer’s markets and the [retail] locations that I have and then slowly add more locations. Then, hopefully, in the next few years, I’ll transition to a commercial kitchen. Right now, I work from home, which legally limits me to selling my products in Ohio.
Which chocolates are customer favorites?
My most popular is my sea salt and almond chocolate bar
. It’s a fabulous combination. I tend to be more adventurous in flavors, and my personal favorite is a rosemary sea salt and almond, but not everyone is up for something adventurous like that.
You’re an expert. Teach us how to identify high-quality chocolate.
A lot of it depends on your taste, whether you like milk or dark chocolate, but high-quality chocolate never has any artificial ingredients, so it would have natural vanilla as opposed to vanilla flavoring. It would also not contain palm oil; companies add this because it’s cheaper than cocoa butter and it makes the chocolate easier to handle.
Higher quality chocolates also tend to be single origin products—all the beans come from a single region—and from smaller producers. Generally, chocolate connoisseurs will go for dark as opposed to milk, but a lot depends on your taste.
Interview by Robin Donovan