Chocolatier and pastry chef Audrey Vaggione discovered her passion for making desserts at an early age. By the time she was fourteen she was already baking and decorating tiered cakes. After working her way up to a teaching job at the Home Chef Cooking School, she decided to follow her passion for sweet and enrolled in the California Culinary Academy in Baking and Pastry Arts. After graduating she worked in several bay area pastry kitchens before launching Vaggione Pastries. She made custom desserts, wedding cakes, and chocolates.
Making chocolates melded her interests in growing fresh food, cooking, decorating, and science. She started a new business, selling chocolates to friends and neighbors and filling online orders. As the demand grew, Audrey moved from a rented space in a commercial kitchen into a small local shopping center where she perfected her chocolate confections.
But, her ultimate goals were to expand her menu and open a Café that would feature her fabulous chocolates and desserts paired with wines, coffees, fruit and cheeses, as well as morning and afternoon meals.
Ms. Vaggione knew she wanted to expand into a location with more traffic and higher visibility. She also had a high seasonality factor, so offering additional food service would add value to the business. She needed access to capital for the expansion and equipment. To launch the new business they also needed a marketing plan to build awareness, and build a strong reputation and a following of repeat customers.
First, Audrey and her husband Mike, met with Silicon Valley SBDC Business Advisor Karioki Uhuru to plan their approach with lenders with financial projections based on their past profit and loss statements. They also needed to develop a realistic framework for documenting future budgeted income statement, balance sheet, and break-even analysis.
Second, Audrey met with SBDC Business Advisor Susan Lewis to discuss past marketing efforts, competitors and industry trends. They also discussed hiring plans, process and budgeting that were all included in the narrative section of the business plan. Susan also conducted a marketing communications review to ensure consistent branding and how to enhance their unique selling proposition. She also recommended a website audit that would pinpoint areas of improvement.
Third, a website review was arranged with TAP-SBDC counselor Janet Wentworth. She provided insight into the shopper’s experience, search engine optimization and recommendations that would drive more traffic to the website.
Audrey and Mike were able to secure two loans - one for equipment and one for the build-out of their new location. Dolce Bella Chocolate Café opened with rave reviews.
They now offer a community gathering place where friends can meet and savor seasonal flavors from Audrey’s garden or watch chocolates being created in the open kitchen. You should try one of their house-made ice creams or dip into a chocolate fondue, experience a seasonal pastry such as their hot apple pie a la mode.