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Local chocolatier shines in a competitive industry

David Levy, chocolatier and founder of Chocolate Tales, doesn’t wear a purple suit or a felt top-hat while crafting his truffles and bars. His facilities aren’t powered by a chocolate waterfall, or hidden from the public behind a swirling, wrought-iron fence. Rather, he wears a black button-up chef’s shirt, sources his cacao beans from a fair-trade organic Venezuelan farm, and will gladly open his workshop to anyone wanting to try their hand at making sweet treats.

“There’s a great Japanese word, otaku,” David shares, onsite at the Chocolate Tales studio cornering York & Locke. “It describes something that’s more than a hobby but a little less than an obsession. Something specialized, unique, and fine — that you don’t see often.” The concept partly guides the business’ vision to creatively make, sell, and experience chocolate.

For the nine years Chocolate Tales has been in action – initially in Toronto, and more recently in Hamilton – David and his team have aimed to innovate. In tandem with supplying quality, equitable, and delectable products, they offer immersive workshop sessions personalized for any age-group and occasion.

“I used to manage restaurants and bars,” shares David. “I always enjoyed creating and staging experiences —the theatre of business, right?” This knack has only swelled since, morphing into the colourful and careful craft of chocolate.

“We’ve worked with about 150,000 people in the last nine years,” says David, seeming surprised by the number himself. “They’ve all come through this journey and hopefully left with a really positive mindset.” Participants, whether attending birthday parties, corporate events, bachelorettes, or any other shade of shindig, often enter with little sense of what to expect.

“It feels awkward when you haven’t done it before,” David admits. But as people settle into the guided practices of roasting, winnowing, grinding, aerating, tempering, blending, moulding, cooling, and savouring — the honorary chocolatiers start “to feel good about themselves,” empowered by the practice of something new. Come session’s end, they head home with a whack of historical fun-facts and packaged goods ready to be flaunted before (and maybe even shared with) friends and family.

“You’re getting positively reinforced by that experience,” David has noticed. “So when I say I like to make people happy, it’s not just bringing smiles—but creating impact. That’s really the engine that inspires me to do what I do.”

A second part of their mission is collaboration, which, David says, is uncommon in the realm he calls the “chocolate space.”

“This space is extremely competitive,” he explains. “It’s actually known for lack of collaboration. Colleagues who own confectionaries have said the same; it’s crazy how GTA bakers and chocolatiers are so fanatical about not collaborating. But I feel like if you’re not open to it, you’re not going to grow.”

Having taken this to heart, Chocolate Tales looks outward in hopes of cross-pollinating with other markets. Chocolate plus yoga, I’m informed, equals choga. And while truffles undoubtedly pair well with cheese companies and wineries, what about craft breweries? The possibilities stir.

One upcoming partnership is with artist Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley, an Ojibway painter from Ontario.

“[Joshua] was presenting at the Art Gallery of Hamilton last week,” David recalls, “so that’s how we got in contact. I’m looking for someone who would sponsor him to put his art on our packaging; he’s got amazing stuff.”

The business’ name is holding its weight; chocolate is the vehicle through which tales are being shared.

“Tales are what we’re all about,” David says. “The human stories, the history — the things behind the scenes. That’s our direction.”

And it’s a direction they’re heading in full force.

“We do about 800 events per year right now,” David tallies. “Which is a fair bit.” Considering their ability is about 1500 events per year based on facility and staff, they’re poised to grow.

Navigating growth in both Toronto and Hamilton has brought up unique challenges and possibilities. It has also highlighted contrasts in the cities’ culture surrounding small businesses.

“Here,” David says, “I feel like we have more support. It’s more grassroots and there’s a wish for you to succeed. In Toronto, it’s a little bit more cut-throat; we felt like we were trying to prove ourselves. But here, we’re encouraged to keep going. There’s a lot more openness.” Finding support and solidarity as an entrepreneur – especially in a time as fluctuant as ours – is the golden ticket.

“Today, business is more different than it ever was,” says David. “The potential to grow is enormous; the tools small businesses have now are ones we never had before.

“At the same time, it’s also a saturated market with oversaturated messaging; it’s almost like a juxtaposition. So that’s where small businesses struggle in the West. Really, you have to do something that’s compelling. And you have to do it together.”

Be sure to check out upcoming workshops on Chocolate Tales’ website!

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