Chattanooga: Chocolate entrepreneur grows up at incubator

Chattanooga: Chocolate entrepreneur grows up at incubator

January 23rd, 2009 by Anne Braly in Business

Staff Photo by Tim Barber<br> Wendy and Brandon Buckner make truffles at their new business, The Hot Chocolatier, located in the Chattanooga Hamilton County Business Development Center.

Staff Photo by Tim Barber<br> Wendy and Brandon Buckner...

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Business Development Center has developed a sweet tooth with the opening of its first chocolate business, The Hot Chocolatier.

Pastry chef Wendy Buckner, trained at the French Pastry School in Chicago, has returned to her hometown with husband Brandon to open the shop specializing in all things chocolate, especially handmade truffles, turtles and chocolate drink mixes.

"I'll also be making chocolate sculptures for wedding and other events," Mrs. Buckner said. "We hope to bring chocolate to a new level in Chattanooga."

The couple first looked at space in Coolidge Park, but it needed more work than they could afford. They then turned to the small business incubator on the North Shore.

With some elbow grease, which included scraping and painting all surfaces with high-gloss paint to conform to county health codes, they transformed the 2,000-square-foot space, formerly a flower shop, into a location filled with chocolate tempering in warm containers and finished chocolates cooling and ready for boxing.

If you go

* What: The Hot Chocolatier grand opening

* When: Jan. 30, 3 p.m.

* Where: The Hot Chocolatier, Business Development Center, 100 Cherokee Blvd., Suite 212.

* Information: 266-3066 or www.thehotchocolatier.com

The Buckners are preparing for the onslaught of Valentine and Easter candy buyers, making hundreds of truffles and other treats from their own blend of American and imported chocolates using no additives or preservatives.

They're taking pride in using as many local purveyors of needed ingredients as possible. They're getting spices for things such as their chili pepper truffles from Alchemy Spice Co., located upstairs from their shop. And they hope to find an outlet for local honey, added Mr. Buckner, who has his master's degree in art from the University of Iowa.

Tenants of the Business Development Center stay for up to three years. It houses 64 entrepreneurs, said Kathryn Foster, director of small business and entrepreneurship.

Since the center's launch in March 1988, there have been numerous food businesses getting a start there, Mrs. Foster said. Alchemy Spice Co. and Sunset Mountain Roasters are the only other food-oriented businesses at the center.

To be accepted as a tenant, there must be a demonstrated commitment from the business owner to be actively and intimately involved with the business, Mrs. Foster said.

"It's not just about making chocolate or whatever business they may be in; it's everything else," she said.

"Everything else" includes budgeting and all other aspects of running a business. There are business counselors in the center to help new business owners.

"We have more businesses now than we've ever had here," Mrs. Foster said. "We graduate about 20 each year into the community. We have an 87 percent success rate, which is very good, especially for right now. And we're thrilled that Wendy is upstairs making her chocolates."

The aim for business owners graduating from the Business Development Center is to have their own storefronts. And that's what the Buckners have in mind.

"Our main goal is to have a storefront within three years, if not sooner," Mrs. Buckner said. "But for now, we have a great kitchen and have so far have had a wonderful response from customers."


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