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Exploring Life & Business with Julie Nygard of The Chocolate Therapist

Today we’d like to introduce you to Julie Nygard.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
After 18 years in the apparel industry, I left corporate America to pursue my dream of becoming an author. I had studied nutrition my entire life, had my nutrition educator’s certificate, and constantly read diet books, and my plan was to write about healthy eating. Fortunately for me, the health benefits of chocolate news broke right about then. That sounded SO much more interesting, not to mention I was a long-time chocolate lover. I realized this would be a way to combine my two passions, and the result was my book “The Chocolate Therapist: A User’s Guide to the Extraordinary Health Benefits of Chocolate.” It took 16 months to write the first version (it’s since been rewritten and picked up by a big publisher). I started speaking to help sell the book, and that led to traveling on cruise ships as a guest lecturer teaching a series of chocolate classes. I hired a local company to start my own brand of clean-ingredient chocolate bars, then ended up buying it two years later when the owners wanted to retire. After operating the store as it was for a year, I closed it for five months and changed everything. We overhauled the recipes to make them all-natural and without sugar-filled centers and also integrated gluten-free and soy-free ingredients. We gutted the shop and added a full-service coffee bar. All of that happened 12 years ago, and since that time the shop has grown every year. Over the years, we added chocolate and wine pairing and chocolate and beer pairing classes, and I’ve hosted corporate and charity events as well. Because our chocolate has far less sugar and is infused with organic flavoring oils, it pairs particularly well with wine and spirits, and “pairing chocolates” have become our specialty. Our chocolate is very different from other companies, and usually once people come in and try it, they’ll always come back. One of my mission statements when I started was “to change the chocolate loving world as we know it, one convert at a time.” I wanted to bring great-tasting, clean-ingredient chocolate to people at a good price. Reflecting over the last 12 years, we’ve definitely done that. We’re also very active in charitable giving. We work to participate in as many events as possible, although it can be overwhelming at times. It’s not unusual to receive over 100 requests a month, so we have to choose, and it’s hard because there’s so much need.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
One of the hardest parts of owning a business for me was (and still is!) managing the employees. I’m a true entrepreneur. I look around and see what needs to be done, then put the blinders on and do it non-stop. At first, I couldn’t understand how much guidance and structure employees needed. Not all of them, of course, but most people want a system and a plan. I admit I was not good at providing that. I’ve learned quite a bit over the years, but I still find it challenging. Fortunately, I had a great manager for a while who created charts and lists for everything that has to happen. It also took me a while to let go of some of the tasks I was trying to do that I shouldn’t have been spending time on, like keeping our books. My skills are marketing and sales, and I truly love hosting classes and being in front of people. As soon as I hired an accountant, our sales increased substantially because I had more time to put effort into what I was good at. In fact, I recommend to anyone starting a business to hire an accountant immediately! The chocolate business is also very seasonal, so we have to get very creative in the summer. When it’s 90 degrees, people don’t want to leave the shop with chocolate. We added a lot of smoothies, frozen blended drinks and even a self-serve wine bar. We also have buy one/get one free sales all summer to keep the stock fresh. We also reorganized the way we ship with ice and insulation, so we can ship to most states all year now.

Appreciate you sharing that. What should we know about The Chocolate Therapist?
We specialize in all-natural chocolate, made fresh daily in our shop. We also serve locally-roasted gourmet coffee and have a self-serve wine bar as well. People can come in and have a glass a wine or a coffee drink and order a plate of chocolate and do their own chocolate and wine pairing out on the patio in front of the store. It’s a place where you can come in and have an experience unlike any other. We have free samples every day, and the shop always smells like chocolate. Saturdays are especially great because that’s toffee-making day (made without corn syrup!), and the smells usually flow out of the shop and down the street. I love that the shop’s name “The Chocolate Therapist” makes people laugh. I hear them walking through the door saying “book me a session right now!” The staff always works to make people’s day better. Hopefully, when they leave, they’re happier than when they walked in, even if they were in a good place to start. Our goal is for people to identify the brand with quality, pure ingredients and excellent taste. If they see the Rx with word ‘chocolate’ over the top, they can be assured that it’s extraordinary chocolate. I wanted to create a European-style chocolate shop feeling, but with extra attention to the ingredients. We don’t have sparkles, or sprinkles, or brightly colored chocolates because those ingredients aren’t real. We focus on purity, and the outstanding flavor reflects that commitment.

What are your plans for the future?
I’ve traveled all over the world and have seen some of the most extraordinary chocolate companies, manufacturers and concepts. For example in Argentina, chocolate shops are like mini-adventure centers. They have hot chocolate bars, skating rinks, little restaurants, and all these concepts are located around the center chocolate shop. In my grandest future vision, I’d like to build a place where people can visit the production facility and watch chocolate being made (through glass windows above the process), retail shop in numerous “concept” shops throughout the factory, and have fun experiences like taking classes and learning how to make chocolate. Believe me, it’s happening all over the world, it can happen in the US too. Basically my idea is: Switzerland meets Argentina meets the Tillamook Cheese company. Factory in Oregon–it’s gorgeous and similar to my vision. I’m only one lottery win away, lol 🙂

Pricing:

  • Wine Pairing Chocolates: $14.95
  • Award Winning Toffee 1#: $24.95
  • Sea Salt Caramels: $14.95
  • Dark Chocolate Chili Patties: $3.75

Contact Info:


Image Credits

Tom Tallant

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