People say that if chocolate is the answer, no one cares about the question.
How about an entire interview devoted to chocolate?
Last month, the Downtown Duncan Business Improvement Area met with Chocolate Pearl owner Cheryl Yonge to learn more about the chocolate shop she and her husband, Nigel, opened at 133 Craig Street in 2017. After sampling truffle and passion fruit ganache, we discussed the art of making delicious chocolate, the benefits of doing business in downtown Duncan, lessons they have learned through starting a new business, and the perks of shopping locally. Our conversation, reprinted below, has been edited for clarity and length.
1) When did you open, and what made you decide to open a chocolate shop?
We opened two and a half years ago, in April. [My husband and I] had been looking around at bricks and mortars in downtown Duncan, just to see what the possibilities were. At the time, Rembrandt’s was for sale, and I thought chocolate! We thought that Rembrandt's seemed cool, but I wanted to do my own thing using local products I love. This valley is amazing, food and wine wise – I mean, what grows here and what you can get here is so beautiful. I wanted that to be a part of what I do. So we decided to do our own thing, and when we opened our doors, we sold out right away!
2) Why choose downtown Duncan to open a business?
I’m from here. We lived in Vancouver for 20 years, but we wanted to come back. And Duncan has a lovely downtown... One thing that is very nice here is the downtown core business community. We talk a lot and learn from each other. Meeting up with other owners [at BIA socials], we get to talk about all kinds of things, like what are the best debit machines to use, and so on. It’s been lovely getting to know my downtown. I get to wave out the window and be a part of the community.
3) What is your favourite activity in downtown Duncan?
I love going to the Saturday farmers’ market. Like anyone, I love poking around in the little shops. I don’t have as much time as I would like, but when I can, I get out and take it all in. I go to spas, I get my hair cut downtown, I shop.
4) Back to your shop! What was it like to study chocolate in school?
Chocolate school was just like those cooking shows. Our final exam, we were given unknown ingredients, and we had to make something with them. We had coffee beans and an orange. I made two different chocolates. Apparently people usually only make one, because there’s a time frame to do it, but I worked really hard, and they said I carried it off.
5) What is your favourite chocolate? Can you tell us about some upcoming holiday treats or other exciting products you are going to tempt us with here in Duncan?
My favourite is my latest - whatever one I just made! I like them all, but I’m really partial to my milk chocolate caramel with espresso in it, the coffee caramel pearl. It has a liquid caramel, which is unusual for people here. Coming into fall, I’ve got my apple pie caramel coming out. I use apple sauce that my mom makes, and I put that into the caramel, and a shot of Apple Pie Moonshine, which I get from Salt Spring Island. I always try to use local stuff... And I do try to do seasonal flavours. This spring I did rhubarb chocolate and it was popular so I carried on into the summer.
6) Have you had any surprising flavour ‘flops’ when mixing up new chocolates?
For some reason white wine didn’t work as well with the chocolate as red wine. You just don’t taste it, it doesn’t have the strength. We tried lots of whites against every one of our chocolates and it just didn’t make a big difference.
7) What’s it like being a chocolatier? Are there any moments you have had with customers that have made a special impression on you – like a really special custom order idea?
I’ve had some really special moments but nothing that is better than the next one. I had one lady come in and buy a birthday gift for a family member. She came back the next day and said, “I’m sorry, I ate the whole box, and I need to buy another one.” That made us laugh!
8) What distinguishes a smaller, mom and pop shop, like your Chocolate Pearl, from the chocolate chains like Godiva, Purdy’s, and others?
What we make is handmade, it’s not mass produced, so there is room to make something special and different and custom. I recently went by Purdy’s, and they were doing a lot of different flavours, gourmet chocolates. They looked great, but they’re still mass-produced. They use machinery and scale back the quality of their ingredients in some cases to do things at a large scale, to appeal to anyone. I want to do something different, something handmade, that is really tailored to our community.
9) Can you tell us a bit about any lessons you may have learned that you wish to share with other entrepreneurs?
Be smart about expenses. Don’t spend beyond your means. Once you get the ball rolling on your business, you can see areas that need more help. I would love a tall glass freezer, but that would be too big an expense for me now, so I bought a cheaper one knowing I can save for the one down the way. That said you can’t scrimp and save on some stuff. I got the best melter and chocolate I could. I get fresh, local ingredients. I put money where it should be, but I look where I can save. Like packaging. I have nice packaging, but it’s not fully tailored yet. That’s coming! Be slow and smart about building your business. You don’t know how it will go.
10) Last question, about your own inspiration. Your website says the name of your shop was inspired by the name of your grandmother, Vivian Pearl Chamberlin. Can you tell us a bit about her and why she inspired you to name your chocolate shop for her?
I was close to both my grandparents, but Vivian was an artist. We had an artistic connection. We went to workshops together. We were the only two in the family with that connection. She passed not too long before I opened the shop, and we were talking about her and I thought, Pearl. I could make little round chocolates based on the pearl shape, and I could make chocolate shells. I really connected with that image. And she was a lovely woman. She wanted me to be big in the art world, but it is easier to sell people chocolate than it is to sell paintings! There’s less of a financial commitment. And I still paint, too. [Cheryl’s paintings are displayed in her shop.]