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Start Your Business Success Stories

Small Business Snapshot: Top This Chocolate

Small Business Snapshot: Top This Chocolate Credit: Ed Rudolph

Our Small Business Snapshot series features photos that represent, in just one image, what the small businesses we feature are all about. Shana Elson, chief executive chocolatier of Top This Chocolate, a business founded in 2014 that sells custom, hand-poured chocolate creations, explains how this image represents her business.

Elson explains...

This photo shows exactly what has been missing in the chocolate world — choice. If you love almonds, you're in luck because there is a lot of chocolate with almonds coming out of factories, but if you prefer pistachios and cranberries, there is nowhere to get exactly what you want. We aim to provide the options consumers have been craving. Our customers can select premium dark, milk or white chocolate and toppings from more than 50 choices of nuts, dried fruit, candy, cookies, and salty snacks. Their creation is then poured by hand into bars, squares, or hearts, and can even be customized to include names spelled out in chocolate letters.

I was uninspired by my day job as an attorney and bored with the options for my nightly chocolate fix. The lack of variety led me to innovate at home, experimenting with bold new topping combinations like coconut, banana chips and spicy mango. Since I was taking pastry and chocolatier classes on the weekends, I knew how to make my own concoctions but it occurred to me that others couldn't do the same. I went back to school for an MBA in entrepreneurship to develop the concept. I launched online soon after graduating.

The business I'd like to be running is "customizable chocolate on the spot" out of a retail store where customers can see liquid chocolate flowing from machines. I developed a quick-dry process for chocolate so patrons can have their personalized chocolate in five minutes or less. Finding a small retail space in Los Angeles, in the right location, on a shoestring budget has been extremely difficult. In the meantime, it is also tough selling online when a $10 chocolate bar comes with a $4.75 shipping charge. This charge is already less that what it costs me to ship.

An interesting thing about my business is that I wasn't sure if I would really launch it until I won the $25,000 first place prize in a pitch competition for women entrepreneurs at the University of Southern California. Then I knew I needed to go for it!