I’ve always admired women who are strong as steel yet so kind and warm.
Women who remain beautiful inside and out no matter the challenges they’ve been through.
Women who have a dream and they make it reality.
This inspired me to reach out to locally owned businesses and let those owners tell us their stories and inspire us in our endeavors, whether it’s moving up the corporate ladder or pulling the trigger to start your own business.
I hope you enjoy this new series of business spotlight exposing the women to you who dared to risk it and made it.
A few weeks ago I walked into a candy shop, The Bonbonnier. I was sincerely impressed by the theme of the interior decoration and the candy that looked better than Godiva. I make candy for Christmas, so I have an idea of how much effort goes into each hand crafted piece and how many things can go wrong. I was instantly drawn in by Lisa, the owner who obviously has a passion for what she does.
But why don’t I let her tell you guys the story behind the dream?
What inspired you to start a confectionery shop?
I love baking and cooking in general, and I’ve always thought of eating and sharing food as a social experience. It was always kind of fun to experiment with different foods, and I wanted to share that fun with others in Norfolk. So we started to look for food niches that Norfolk lacked. Initially, we thought baking would be a good start. I love to make cakes, and I’ve done things like that for friends in the past. However, the start-up costs were tremendously expensive. We considered making donuts, too, until a friend opened a doughnut shop. That’s when we started thinking about candy. I had some experience making candy at home, and we thought we could combine homemade goodies with other nice treats from other American confectioneries. My husband Rob thought we should add ice cream, and my youngest daughter, a real soda aficionado, thought we should sell some of those “weird sodas” like bacon soda and maple soda. That’s how it started.
Do you make all the candies you sell?
I make a lot of our candies. Anything with the name The Bonbonnier on it is ours. We focus on American-made chocolate because there already are shops especially in Virginia Beach that carry beautiful European made chocolates. Everybody knows and loves French truffles and Belgian and Swiss chocolates, but there are a lot of great American confectioners that we wanted to introduce to our customers.
Your candies are immaculate and beautiful! How did you learn making candy?
Honestly, I just watched videos, read books, and, most of all, played around. It was (and still is) a long process; some things worked just by luck, and some turned out to be disasters. One of the things I haven’t completely mastered is topping chocolate with sea salt: sometimes it comes out perfectly, where the chocolate remains nice and shiny; other times, when I don’t time it exactly right, the sea salt causes the chocolate to streak. I’ve gotten to play around with some new gadgets, too. I now have a massive, water-sealed candy kettle that stabilizes temperatures for making caramel, peanut brittle, and toffee. Before, I’d made those only on a stove. The kettle makes things a lot easier and saves us time for making other candies.
A lot of people are excited and super nervous at the same time before opening their own business. Tell me about your fears and the “what ifs” you had to overcome?
That question – “What if this doesn’t work?” – goes through your head every day. Some days keep you pretty busy; on other days you can hear crickets chirping in the building, and you sit there and think “What was I thinking?!” It’s a constant roller coaster until you find something that pushes you into the black.
The fact that we put our own money into it makes this a bigger stress factor. My husband’s our financial management guy, and while he’s been very supportive throughout this venture, we are constantly worry about balancing books. We were told by friends that the first 2-3 years are really tough and that you’re lucky if you break even. Obviously, I’m impatient and I like to see results right now, but we’re heartened by the fact that we are still in business. I’m just glad that we took the plunge. After retiring from the Navy and teaching for 10 years, I wanted to try something like this on my own. I didn’t want to wake up one day and regret that I hadn’t tried.
Tell me the story behind the logo.
Since both my husband and I are retired military, we had this idea of incorporating our military background into the theme of the shop. When we decided to focus on emulating old-fashioned soda and candy shops from the World War II era, we thought that the logo should bring in a pin-up girl and lots of red, white, and blue. My youngest daughter, Hailey actually drew the logo. She’s currently studying digital animation and has always been able to draw just amazing things. As for the name, we came up with all kinds of ideas. Rob had this idea of “Americanizing” the French term bonbonniere to bonbonnier.
How was the reception from locals when you opened?
Great! We have a bunch of regulars, and we constantly see new people coming in as people living even just a couple of streets over discover us. Everyone has been so friendly and supportive. One of our customers came in the other day and asked me if I liked peanuts. He gave me a big bag of fresh roasted peanuts that he bought from Wakefield! Generally the Western part of 21st Street is really coming alive, and wonderful local businesses are developing on the new stretch of W 21st Street. It’s just a really nice community.
What’s your favorite candy of the ones that you make?
The Spitfire! It’s turtle where, instead simply toasting the pecans, I candy them. I throw in some spices including cayenne, so there is a little bit of heat at the end. It’s a really nice flavor that complements the dark chocolate candy and caramel.
Do you do any catering?
Absolutely! In fact we are trying to break into wedding and other types of catering. We recently advertised in the VOW bridal magazine, and we are getting ready to do another wedding that I’m so excited about! In the past, we’ve made bourbon balls and put them into pretty boxes with ribbons. We catered a Navy retirement ceremony with lots of homemade candies, and we had a couple come in the other day for 15 boxes of truffles to give to family members and friends to celebrate their daughter’s engagement. It’s really fun and exciting be a part of these celebrations.
Anything you would’ve done differently?
Honestly, I wish I hadn’t jumped so quickly into this venture, but it’s been working out for us so far. When we started, I had only just finished teaching. I decided I wanted to do something different and start my own business, but I wasn’t certain what it was going to be at that point. We were leaning towards candy when we saw that this space was available. I called the landlord to talk, and the next thing I knew we had signed a contract. I guess sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith. If we had known we were going to do this years ago, I would have started saving up earlier or found someone to go into business with us. But things happen for a reason.
How is your daily routine as a business owner?
We change hours to suit the seasons – right now we’re open Tuesday through Sunday – but it’s basically a 24/7 job. I’m here all the time. I take deliveries and make most of our candy on Mondays. And even if I’m not here, I’m buying groceries for the store. My daughter Taylor just got her food manager’s license so that gives me a lot more flexibility, but it’s still a lot of work. It’s worth it, though, when you get an order or get to talk to your customers.
What’s your advice to someone who is thinking about a small business but they are not ready to pull the trigger?
Collect as much information as you possibly can. There are so many things that you don’t realize you don’t know. If I could, I’d write a book on all of them! For example, there are several permits you have to get that no one tells you about until you get the ball rolling, and there are a lot of little fees that tend to add up. You may also have to do some digging to find the right suppliers for your specialty shop; in our case, warehouses selling candy are not readily available, so we had to do some work to find our sources. Talk to others in the same industry. They are probably your most valuable sources and supporters, and they’re often very willing to let you pick their brains.
Are you a Hampton Roads business owner interested in appearing on Hampton Roads Fashion & Style? Don’t hesitate to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details!
Photos by Rick Robillard