The chocolate tastes of Charlotteans, it seems, are not always predictable.
Andy and Robin Ciordia opened The Secret Chocolatier in Cotswold in 2008 after several years of selling homemade, high-end chocolates in nearby farmers markets. Their sweets were almost exclusively dark chocolate, which the Ciordias and their customers loved.
Two years ago, the Ciordias opened a second location on North Community House Road in Ballantyne. Their dark chocolate confections did not make quite as big of a splash.
“Everyone wanted milk chocolate,” Robin said. “People were continually asking for it.”
Ballantyne customers also wanted white chocolate, as parents brought in children who preferred sweeter types of chocolate. The Secret Chocolatier came out with new confections and switched out dark chocolate coating on others for milk and white chocolate.
The Ciordias, who operate the Ballantyne store while Robin’s parents, Bill and Karen Dietz, run the Cotswold store, say they are finding their groove in Ballantyne and expanding their offerings as they’ve gotten to know the area.
“It’s just a different style of people over here,” Robin said.
The Ciordias have worked hard to educate people about the virtues of gourmet chocolate. Their own creations have won national and international awards.
“When we covert someone,” Andy said, “We make a fan for life.”
Secret Chocolatier just takes it to the next level. I can’t go back to just buying Hershey bars.
Andrew Sweigart, customer
The Secret Chocolatier is a family endeavor between the Ciordias and the Dietzes. Bill Dietz is a career pastry chef who now creates The Secret Chocolatier’s many chocolates and desserts in the Cotswold shop.
Andy and Robin’s son Logan, who is now 4, has grown up in the shop. He now helps his grandfather in the kitchen, and Andy said that Logan recently began asking to read recipes at night instead of bedtime stories.
“I don’t know what he’s going to be when he grows up, but he’ll know food,” Andy said.
The family opened the Ballantyne store in a former chocolate shop that also sold cards and gifts. Unlike the Cotswold store, the Ballantyne location has a large front area where guests can sit and eat their chocolate.
The space has allowed the Ciordias to create a coffee-shop atmosphere, where they serve a special blend – which is a little fruity and chocolaty – that was made for them by Magnolia Coffee Company in Matthews. They also serve a light, flavorful espresso.
Andy said they also now offer cinnamon rolls and coffee cakes, and are considering adding a small, plated dessert option in the evenings for patrons to enjoy with their coffee.
Customer Andrew Sweigart, who lives in Indian Land, rejoiced when the Ciordias opened The Secret Chocolatier in Ballantyne because his family no longer had to drive to Cotswold for their favorite chocolate.
His wife loves the truffles, he loves the chocolate bars and his 7-year-old daughter is a milk chocolate fan.
Sweigart, whose family is from just outside Hershey, Penn., said he gives his in-laws a bag of Secret Chocolatier chocolates for Christmas every year and stops by about once a week for a “chocolate fix.”
“In the area, there is nothing that compares to them,” he said. “Secret Chocolatier just takes it to the next level. I can’t go back to just buying Hershey bars.”
The Secret Chocolatier has seen about 15 percent annual growth, Andy said, but they are always looking for new avenues to sell chocolates. Depending on traditional chocolate-heavy holidays for revenue, he said, can be dicey.
Two years ago, for example, an ice storm in Charlotte on Valentine’s Day – when the shop gets about 30 percent of its business – wiped out that year’s Feb. 14 sales.
This year’s unseasonably warm weather in November has not put people in the buying mode, and Christmas pre-sales are far behind normal, Andy said.
When customers are ready to buy for the holidays, though, The Secret Chocolatier is offering a new “Chocolate of the Month” club, which includes monthly combinations of a selection of the shop’s confections.
The Secret Chocolatier also offers local delivery and shipping across the U.S. The shop hosts cooking classes, kids birthday parties and chocolate-wine pairings at their Ballanytne shop.
And Andy issues a challenge to anyone who may be ho-hum about chocolate.
“If you don’t like chocolate,” he said, “I will convert you.”
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer: email@example.com.
The Secret Chocolatier’s Ballantyne location is at 11318 N. Community House Road. For more information, visit http://www.thesecretchocolatier.com.