By Kiarra Swaby
The immediate scent of rich cocoa fills the entire storefront as soon as you walk through the door. Hand-crafted chocolate treats and sculptures varying from classic chocolate bars to chocolate truffles are placed neatly on the mismatched shelves, wrapped in clear packaging and ribbon. A white man wearing a white apron and a black baseball cap steps out of the backroom to serve the few customers that have filtered into the shop.
“It was a pleasure to see you again, Tim,” says a customer leaving the store satisfied with his purchase.
Thanking the gentleman for stopping by, Tim makes his way back to the kitchen to finish packaging a fresh batch of chocolate bars for the store.
It has been almost 10 years since the Chocolateria owner Tim English decided to change his career path. The Chocolateria, located at 361 Roncesvalles Ave., opened in the summer of 2010 during the midst of the street’s notorious reconstruction period which caused much chaos, excessive noise and the loss to many businesses. However, Tim saw the construction as an opportunity for Roncesvalles believing it would help the area become the next up-and-coming neighbourhood in Toronto. So, Tim decided to rent a cheap space along the strip in August 2010, bringing the Chocolateria to life.
“When you open a business like this, it’s all about location,” says Tim. “You either open in an established neighbourhood and elbow your way in, or you pick an up-and-coming neighbourhood that hasn’t hit yet.”
As the construction began to wind down in 2011, Roncesvalles started to gentrify, bringing life back into the area. Fortunately for Tim, the Chocolateria happened to be the only chocolate shop in the vicinity, creating much buzz during the time.
“When news outlets got word of the ‘lawyer-turned-chocolatier’ thing, it became a great publication story,” explains Tim, referencing the Chocolateria’s free publicity through the articles written by the Toronto Star and Toronto Life.
Prior to becoming a small business owner, Tim began his career as a corporate lawyer working in the energy sector for over 20 years. Though the job has its perks financially, the constant blame and little recognition lawyers receive for the work they do began to wear Tim down, ultimately leading him to walk away from law. So at 45 years old, the former lawyer traded in his briefcase for a baking sheet and opened his own chocolate shop.
“I figured if I was ever going to do something different, now was the time to do so. You don’t want to wait too long because then you’re too old and you just don’t have the energy and the ambition anymore.”
Initially, Tim had no clue what kind of business he wanted to run. He knew with the recession period lingering, he had to come up with an idea that tends to do well during any type of economic decline. So after conducting extensive research, Tim found that a chocolate shop happened to be his best shot at being successful.
“Certain businesses do not do well during a recession, but weirdly enough, all my research kept directing me to chocolate,” Tim says. “When people become worried about their money, they stop buying big-ticket things like fancy clothes and cars, but continue to buy the little treats.”
Tim began to practice making various chocolate creations with the baking skills he obtained from a pastry course he took at George Brown College in 2009. He explains the chocolate-making process as a ‘simple’ procedure, starting with blocks of Belgian and South American chocolate, which is then tempered and poured into plastic molds that are placed in the refrigerator. Once it is all hardened, the chocolates go through the decoration stage and are ready to be packaged.
The chocolatiers spend around five hours each day making, preparing and packaging new chocolate treats (Kiarra Swaby/T•)
Since the opening of the Chocolateria, Tim has been the person responsible for much of the chocolate production. However, with the topic of retirement looming around the shop as of late, Tim has begun to pass many of his responsibilities along to fellow employee Priscilla Tallo, store manager and chocolatier at the Chocolateria.
“This is my first experience in a shop like this,” says Priscilla. “I’ve worked in cake places before which had a lot of ‘custom orders’, as opposed to filling the shelves of a storefront.”
Priscilla always knew she wanted to work in the baking industry with her focus mainly on cakes. However, after coming across a job posting for the Chocolateria during her last year at George Brown College, Priscilla decided to apply for the position despite her lack of confidence in her chocolate-making abilities. Since then, she has proven to be one of the top chocolatiers at the Chocolateria, even becoming well-known by many locals.
“I like that it’s a neighbourhood place, being that it is our only location,” says Priscilla. “We have a lot of regulars we have come to know over the years, which is an aspect I enjoy.”
The Chocolateria has captured the hearts of many people across the GTA for their variety of specialized products, ranging from their simple chocolate truffles, fudge, and caramels, to their customized chocolate pianos, shoes, and wine bottles. The Chocolateria also offers handmade ice cream to subsidize the decrease in chocolate sales during the summer months.
“We like that we have a variety of formal and informal chocolate treats,” says Priscilla. “Anytime a customer comes into the shop, we are always open to suggestions, and I think that people could definitely see and appreciate that.”
Today, the Chocolateria remains as one of the top chocolate shops in the city for its unique success story and delicious chocolates. Although Roncesvalles remains unknown to some Torontonians, Tim English and his staff have found ways to use the neighbourhood to their advantage.
“Since I rarely promote the Chocolateria, a lot of my business has come from the people of Roncesvalles over the last 10 years,” Tim reveals. “Our secret to keeping our connections close is to remain responsive to what people in the area want while having fun with all the chocolate we make and maintaining the very best quality.”