When one talks with Jacqueline Jacek of Jacek Chocolate Coutoure, the word "joy" comes up often in conversation. Which isn’t surprising considering Jacek is the owner of a company that makes chocolate.
“It's just making people happy in everything we do. So it's not just when they come into the store making them happy, though that's definitely a part of it. And we do spend a lot of time working on the in-store experience,” says Jacek. “But it’s ‘what’s the joy’ when they taste it, when they see our chocolates? And our supply chain. Making sure the farmers and suppliers are joyful, which is why it's very important I go to the farms and make sure that the beans are ethically sourced, that workers are well treated. All of that.”
With three storefront locations in Alberta (Edmonton, Sherwood Park and Canmore), 40 retail partners across Canada, a thriving online business and a recent expansion of its Sherwood Park production facility, Jacek Chocolate Coutoure has come a long way in 10 years. And all of it was due to hard work. But like the chocolates they sell, the work, too, has been infused with joy.
Born in Legal, Alberta, Jacqueline Jacek moved to New Zealand as teenager when her father got a new job there. There, she attained marketing degree and took the typical step of working in the corporate world for different organizations.
Still, she wasn’t interested in continuing on the corporate path and searched for a new way to make her mark and bring joy into the world. Her interests pulled her in two directions: culinary or fashion? Fashion was a big pull; by the time she was 11, she had already started her own business selling ski hats. “I sewed them all, I designed them all. And back then, they had a dinosaur tail too, all of that,” she says. “For an 11 year-old, I made decent coin.”
Culinary won out for one simple reason. “I went the food route because as a designer, I get a fourth element. So in fashion you get form, function and colour. In food or chocolate, you get form, function, colour and flavour. So, it's four-dimensional,” she says.
Armed with her chocolate culinary training and her cocoa-nista plans, Jacek was back in Canada and on December 1, 2009, she started making chocolates in her basement, selling them at farmers' markets and establishing an online presences. For five years, she sold chocolates out of her basement, her sales increasing organically through word of mouth.
But there was no way she could ignore her interest and fascination with the fashion industry. It became another element for Jacek, who calls herself the world's first "cocoa-nista."
“While living in New Zealand, I started training in chocolate, and then decided to run the company on a fashion business model. Chocolate couture,” she explains. “We launch our chocolates in seasons, just like fashion. So, we have a Summer line, a Spring line, a Fall line, a Winter line. Every season has a different muse, or a different inspiration. Our bars are named after fashion icons or they have their own style persona. We've collaborated with a local clothing design company, and paired her new collection pieces with our chocolates on the runway. We have the best models in the world. They are very still.”
By early 2014, Jacek was leasing a production facility and storefront in Sherwood Park. Then, another storefront in downtown Edmonton later that same year. Then another one, with a partner, in Canmore in 2017. Online orders increased. Local retailers became interested in stocking Jacek Chocolates and soon that expanded to having her wares in more than 40 retail locations across the country. The company tripled the size of its production facility to 7,600 square feet in 2017.
It’s been a joyful experience for Jacek, her family (her husband also works for the company full time) and her employees. But as with all successful business stories, struggle is also mixed in with all the joy and happiness. The early struggle involved starting her business at the same time she was having a baby. And the later one, in the past couple of years, involves letting go of being involved in everything as the company has grown.
“The last couple of years, I really haven't had to be everything. That's the hard thing in business, is transitioning from doing everything, to having a very talented team where I don't need to do everything," Jacek said. "I can't do it by myself. Even the creative process, it doesn't make sense for me to do it by myself. It was hard to transition. But the bigger we get, the easier it is, because I can see the value that having talent in your organization brings. We've had really strong leaders. My job is just really just moving the needle forward in the organization.”
Part of moving the needle forward is to sell a million boxes of chocolates by the year 2024. Right now, Jacek sells almost 200,000. So that means more retailers in Canada selling Jacek Chocolates as well as further expansion of the online side of the business. In addition, Jacek has been approached to distribute Jacek’s Chocolate Couture to locations in Europe. It’s a tempting proposition to bring Edmonton area chocolate to the European chocolate capitals in Belgium, Switzerland and Germany, but Jacek wants to start small and then slowly scale up, instead of launching a full-on invasion of the European market.
“I definitely err on the side of caution when it comes to the entrepreneur spectrum. I sometimes don't like calling myself an entrepreneur because I really am not a fan of risk,” she says with a laugh. Plus, if the company gets too big, too fast, there's a risk that the joy will get squeezed out of the equation.
“Joy is the ideal. It's not something that's a hard rule. It's such a ... non-concrete philosophy,” she said. “Happiness is kind of like your mainstream contentment. Joys are little sparks. You can eat a salted caramel, and it's delicious. It's consistently delicious. But you get a crunch of sea salt, you get a big grain of sea salt, and that's the joy.”