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No longer a secret, Charlotte’s artisanal family chocolate shop

By Erin Maddrey Photos by Remy Thurston

September 15, 2015

There are some people who say you should never mix business and family together. Chef Bill Dietz and his family are not part of that school of thought. During a career crossroads, Dietz and his family decided to try their hands at entrepreneurship. Dietz, his wife Karen, his daughter Robin and her husband Andy, joined forces and created The Secret Chocolatier.

Dietz is a self-taught pastry chef. His career has spanned over 30 years and has taken him from restaurants throughout South Carolina to the Sonoma Group in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he worked as executive pastry chef.

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Photo by Remy Thurston

Karen is the personality and the heart of the business. She assists her husband when needed with infusion ideas and hand shaping chocolates.

Bill and Karen’s daughter, Robin Ciordia, is a former preschool teacher specializing in teaching special needs children. She helps in the kitchen with her father, but is also the strategic planner of the business. Customizing menus for events and ensuring things run smoothly.

Robin’s husband, Andy, assists whenever needed, but his strength is in the marketing and business management areas of business.

“An early family business is like any startup, everyone has multiple hats and roles they play,” said Andy Ciordia. “The difference between family and a standard business is you can’t (easily) remove the family members. You have to find roles that each member can play well and like playing.”

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Andy Ciordia photo by Remy Thurston

The Secret Chocolatier began by selling handmade truffles at local area farmers markets. It was at these markets that recipes were perfected and the family eventually developed a loyal following, which spurred the family to eventually open a store in the Cotswold area of Charlotte.

“We are still a very small business,” Ciordia said. “We pound the pavement to make a large echo but our footprints are still young ones. We exist because of our loyal customers and exuberant fans.”

The smell of truffles, toffee, buttercream and all the ingredients that makes their chocolate so unique envelopes you when you walk through the door. The focus of the business is to provide a premium product without the premium price tag. Dark chocolate caramels with sea salt, s’more bites and sea salt chocolate butter toffees are just some of the flavors prepared with love daily, as only the freshest products are in the store.

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Photo by Remy Thurston

Even with a strong partnership and a loyal customer base, The Secret Chocolatier has seen its share of close calls as a small business. Valentine’s Day is a huge day for last minute chocolate sales. The Valentine’s Day snowstorm of 2014 almost saw the end of the store. Potential customers stayed home out of the snow instead of at the store buying gifts. A great product, a strong work ethic and a reputation with loyal customers helped see the store recover from their losses.

“People don’t understand [that as a small business owner] you work 60 to 80 hour weeks, get one day off a week, take a few days off for vacation a year and if you don’t work, you don’t pay your own bills,” Ciordia said. “There is a romanticized view of [working for yourself] than the actual day in day out reality.”

The goal of The Secret Chocolatier is twofold: to provide artisanal chocolate of the highest quality to customers and to create a sustainable future for the family.

“I love our family business,” Ciordia said. “I love seeing the satisfaction of those who taste our products. I love the feedback we get when someone excitedly shares their find. That is the fuel that runs our mental engines and keeps us working late. Every small business owner needs to have something that ignites them.”

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Photo by Remy Thurston

My first introduction to The Secret Chocolatier was their Cake in a Jar product during the dreaded Valentine’s Day snowstorm. A piece of cake perfectly layered into a convenient jar meant to be enjoyed over a period of time, but I ate it in one sitting and I don’t regret it at all.

If you haven’t been to The Secret Chocolatier yet, you should stop in, say hello and get a delicious truffle.

The Secret Chocolatier
2935 Providence Rd, Suite 104,
Charlotte, NC 28211

11318 N. Community House Rd., Suite 203,
Charlotte, NC 28277
info@thesecretchocolatier.com
Call Us: 704-323-8178

 

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