A Healthy Love of Chocolate
Chocolate Therapy founders’ experience combines for a recipe for success
When you talk to Pamela and David Griffin about Chocolate Therapy, the savvy entrepreneurs give a great pitch about how the chocolate-making business is the perfect use of their backgrounds and experience in retail and manufacturing.
But the couple can’t hide their enthusiasm for chocolate.
The two have found their own recipe for success, focusing on small-batch, handmade chocolate products and pushing the health benefits of dark chocolate and their way of crafting it. Operating out of a retail and manufacturing facility in Framingham, Chocolate Therapy’s tagline is “Sweet Remedies,” reflecting the therapeutic ingredients they use, including bee pollen, coconut oil, ginseng, lavender and green tea, along with more typical items such as caramel, nuts and peanut butter.
The Griffins’ philosophy is to get creative in combining ingredients for delicious but also health-conscious products — and to invite the customer along for the ride.
“People enjoy the fact that they can look and see what the benefits are of those ingredients,” says Pamela Griffin, who held managerial and executive positions for 17 years at Starbucks. “That is our niche. You will come in here and get not just a bonbon or a milk chocolate or white chocolate truffle, you will get some other ingredient with a therapeutic value that is infused into the chocolate.”
She adds, “It is not going to cure you, but it is going to make you happy, and it is very different than walking into just a local chocolate retailer.”
A quick glance at the shop’s tempting array reveals not only Milk Chocolate Truffles and Sea Salt Caramels, but also Sweet Potato Pie Truffle, Strawberry Balsamic Chocolates and a Blueberry Lemon Basil Truffle.
“We push the envelope as far as we can,” Pamela says.
The Griffins are not relying solely on customers walking in and buying chocolates over the counter; they have diversified Chocolate Therapy with many different ways to bring in revenue.
Business is something the couple, married for 30 years, knows well. While Pamela’s experience at Starbucks exposed her to the retail world during the height of the coffee chain’s explosion onto the scene, David spent much of his professional career in manufacturing, seeing firsthand the back-end infrastructure needed for production and the ways to get inventory out the door to as many different consumer outlets as possible.
From the 1980s to the early 90s, the Griffins owned several small coffee shops in Chicago, where they are both from, giving them exposure to storefront retail.
Their Chocolate Therapy store in Framingham is host to birthday parties, public and private wine and chocolate events, chocolate-making classes, team-building programs and even events for Girl Scouts, through which the scouts can earn a chocolatier badge. Chocolate Therapy offers some of these events offsite as well.
In addition, Chocolate Therapy operates a wholesale and corporate business making chocolates for guest rooms in Boston hotels, including Boston Intercontinental, Seaport Boston Hotel and Lenox Hotel. The company also makes chocolates for other retail brands, including Winston Flowers, Taza Chocolate, Beakman 1802 and HomeGoods.
The couple believes that diversifying their brand is key to growing the business.
“It makes us much more flexible and gives us several income streams,” David says.
“When you own a small business, 80 percent of what you do is risk,” adds Pamela. “You have to just take a risk, and if it doesn’t work you have to go to the next thing, and the next thing, and you find things that work — and then you keep them. I think we are at a good place of where we have enough things to sustain us.”
The goal right now is to crack $500,000 in revenue for the year and the couple says Chocolate Therapy is close to doing that. They credit the move into wholesale for this.
“The fourth quarter last year and the first quarter this year have been just outstanding,” says David.
Success has not come overnight for the couple, who moved to Boston in 2005 when David took a job at manufacturing company Ark-Les Corp. in Stoughton, and opened Chocolate Therapy in May 2011. There have been challenges.
Chocolate Therapy originally opened in Dedham at then-brand-new retail hotspot Legacy Place. It was a shiny, high-end, high-traffic location in the early days, and it seemed just the place for a new specialty chocolate shop. But while they had lines out the door at marquee holidays like Valentine’s Day and Christmas, at other times sales were slow. The rent was high, the store location was too small for anything but selling chocolate and a few complementary items — at that time all the chocolate was made offsite — and they reached a limit to what they could do there.
“After a year-and-a-half, we realized that store by itself was not going to get it done,” David says. “There just wasn’t enough foot traffic. There wasn’t enough revenue generated by doing chocolate and drinks. We knew we had to find other income streams.”
They opened the Framingham location in December 2012. The new, much-larger store allowed them to set up equipment to make the chocolate in the back of the store, and to host events.
They also hired a chocolatier, Rick Gemme, who takes the recipes and concepts the couple dreams up and turns them into reality.
For a time, both Chocolate Therapy locations continued to operate, but eventually the onsite manufacturing model of the Framingham store proved to be the successful way to do it, so the Griffins closed the Dedham store in August 2015.
Closing a retail store is often viewed as a bad turn of events, but it was a wise move for Chocolate Therapy, putting the business on track for what David and Pamela believe will be its best year yet. Both have left their prior careers to focus fulltime on Chocolate Therapy.
Pamela’s ultimate desire is to see the brand grow in distribution and reputation.
“I would love to see us in more high-end retailers or high-end hotels,” she says. “I have a dream of someone being able to order our truffles at a restaurant for dessert with wine pairings, or on a first-class flight.”
David says franchising is something to consider, as well as additional small retail shops in airports or high-end plazas. He also would love to sell their chocolates in a shop in New York, he says. If the wholesale side really takes off, he could also see opening a larger manufacturing-only facility.
“It will evolve. It will develop. We will see,” he says. “Right now, the focus is to get this thing up and make this a very strong business model, and then see where we want to go.”