Renowned chocolatier has new vision for sweet success
Business: Bernard Callebaut looking for investors for Papa Chocolat
By: By Carmen Solana-Martin
| Posted: Thursday, Mar 14, 2013 01:13 pm
The true measure of a man is how he reacts when his dreams are shattered.
A passionate man who does not give up will go on to succeed once again.
Bernard Callebaut, chocolatier and president and CEO of Papa Chocolat Inc., is such a man.
In October 2010, Callebaut, 59, lost Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut, the company he spent more than 25 years building.
Even with such a public loss, Callebaut did not retreat to his peaceful country acreage in West Bragg Creek to feel sorry for himself or even cry.
Instead he and his wife Francesca spent six weeks planning and strategizing and Papa Chocolat was launched on December 8, 2010.
In it's hey day, Callebaut’s former company Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut was a multi-million dollar operation occupying a 48,000-square-foot building space in downtown Calgary.
Today, Papa Chocolat is much more modest, with a 1,000-square-foot factory in southeast Calgary and one retail location in Willow Park. According to Callebaut, his sales for the 2012 fiscal year were approximately $400,000.
Having recently created a five-year business plan, which includes finding new financial investors, Callebaut is looking forward and hopes to build his brand and company.
“We are raising money on a private level by doing a public offering memorandum so we can have the financial means to do our stores properly, invest in equipment, and help to create our brand,” he said. “We need financing because the bottom line is that we lost everything.”
Even though it is difficult to start again, Callebaut said he would be bored if he was not pursuing his culinary craft.
"Making chocolate is what gets me out of bed each morning," he said. “If you find your passion you will never work a day in your life.”
Not only did Callebaut lose his company, but he lost the use of his trade name, and all his chocolate recipes.
"I never had a big issue with losing the right to use my name," he said. “Sometimes you have to focus on what you love and put things behind you.”
Callebaut said he is not interested in keeping old recipes and duplicating what he did.
"I am happy to make chocolates and do it from scratch again," he said.
With 28 years of experience and knowledge of what it takes to succeed in the fine chocolate industry, Callebaut said he is in a different place than when he founded his first company.
His wife Francesca, chief operating officer, has played a substantial role in the creation and branding of Papa Chocolat according to Callebaut.
“When we started the new business my wife and I decided that building a quality brand was going to be our number one focus,” he said.
Callebaut launched Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut in 1983 after he immigrated to Calgary from Belgium for the business opportunities and mountain vistas.
A master chocolatier, he gained celebrity status, accolades and with his reputation as the innovator of fine chocolate, Callebaut was considered an Alberta success story.
Then after more than 20 years in business, things fell apart for his company Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut in 2010.
"Several circumstances lead to the receivership including the recession and a large real estate deal," said Callebaut. "Ultimately, I take the full responsibility."
On Oct. 10, 2010 after trying to buy back his company, Callebaut's bid was not approved, and Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut was sold to another group of investors.
After losing the company, they felt they had no choice but to begin again for the sake of their two young sons.
“We said we better get going and that’s what we did,” said Callebaut. “I have two wonderful children who no one can take away and that’s a blessing.”
His expansion plans for his new company are less ambitious this time around. The offering memorandum he has prepared for potential investors details target actions which include the number of retail stores he hopes to open within the next five years.
“We are taking small steps,” said Callebaut. “We plan to open a total of nine retail stores by the end of 2017-2018 fiscal year.”
In the short-term Callebaut said he plans to renovate his Willow Park retail store this summer, opening a second store in the fall of 2013 and a third store by the summer or fall of 2014.
“I also hope to purchase some factory equipment and add more products to my chocolate assortment,” said Callebaut. “I want to make a product that is special and that people love.”
When he first started attending trade shows to promote the newly created Papa Chocolat, Callebaut said he used to be upset as attendees, confused as to why he was not at the Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut booth, would pepper him with questions.
He is still actively promoting his new company at trade shows, but now when he sees the Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut booth that bears his name, he simply views his former company as a competitor.
“It is not my agenda to become as big as my old company and have more stores than they do,” he said. “I want to focus instead on building a quality brand because ultimately that is how your business will grow."
Callebaut said his new company’s growth will take time and outside financial investment is essential to realize his vision.
“I am always thinking of the next step and it’s a never-ending goal,” he said. “I put my heart and soul into my chocolates.”