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Cacao Nuts and Chocolates

Bringing a slice of the DR to Centre Street

Saphia Suarez
Cacao Nuts and Chocolates
Leonardo Baez was intent on selling nuts from his J.P. shop, but his wife’s connection to her family’s Dominican cacao farm steered the business in a different direction. PHOTO: SAPHIA SUAREZ

Cacao Nuts and Chocolates on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain is a sweet tooth’s paradise. And the gray walls, wood cabinet detailing and iron cast hanging bulbs draw your eye in to what’s most important — the imported nuts and hand-crafted chocolates appetizingly arranged on sleek stone counters.

At the table by the door on a recent morning, a Latino couple sips what looks like Cacao’s famous hot chocolate, which was ranked Boston’s Best by Boston Magazine this year. At the counter, an older Latino man buys a carefully selected batch of handmade chocolates. And behind the counter in what looks like a chocolate laboratory, Alizah Diaz shaves down a block of chocolate for the next batch of goodies. Though this shop looks like a JP hipster hangout, there is not a hipster in sight. Spanish music blares through the speakers, and more is queued up on the office computer.

Leonardis Baez and his fiancé Perla Rosario opened the shop last July, and have since added three part-time employees to their team. The idea for the shop actually started as a healthy nut bar. This was Baez’ dream, having grown up in the Dominican Republic eating cashews, mostly right off the tree. It was Rosario’s idea to sell chocolates as well. Her family has a cacao farm in the Dominican Republic, which is how the couple came up with the shop’s name. The shop sells nuts and chocolates, but it’s the chocolates that have really taken off.

Aliza Diaz works on confections in the shop’s kitchen. PHOTO: SAPHIA SUAREZ

Baez moved to Egleston Square in the ’90s and graduated from English High School, so it was particularly important to him to open Cacao in Jamaica Plain.

JP is a great community and really supports small businesses, Baez says.

Baez and Rosario also had their community in mind when pricing their products.

“We know not everyone has a lot of money in JP,” Baez says. “We’re from here, so we understand that. We want people to come in and be able to afford anything.”

That’s why their chocolates and nuts are sold by the pound, bringing most of the chocolates to around $1 a square.

“That’s a constant battle,” Baez says. “Because we want to be successful, and in order for us to maintain a business, we understand that we have to price accordingly. However, we decided that our first priority was to make sure we have good quality chocolates at a reasonable price.”

And while Cacao’s prices are low, their expenses are comparatively high — their prime real estate location on Centre Street, right across from J.P. Licks, cost twice as much as Baez was originally aiming to spend. He poured his savings into Cacao, and the investments didn’t stop at the front door. The shop’s nut roaster, chocolate temper, blender and counters were big investments as well, each costing between $1,000 and $8,000.

But business seems to be taking off. Anyone can walk into a shop once, Baez says. But repeat customers are what keep a business going. And that’s how Baez knows they’re going to be just fine — customers are returning. Some are even asking when they’ll see a Cacao shop in their neighborhood.

Expansion is definitely on Baez’ mind. He’s gotten expansion requests from Roslindale and South Boston customers in particular, so we may see a second shop in one of those neighborhoods soon.

But for now, the young business is focusing on turning a profit. Baez says they hope to break even by the holidays, when business tends to skyrocket. And one day, the couple plans to make their chocolates from Rosario’s family cacao farm in the Dominican Republic, making the shop “bean-to-bar” and further solidifying Cacao’s family business feel.

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