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The Light Files - Stefano Zullian

Stefano Zullian

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Talk about following your passion! Laura Max discusses Venezuelan chocolate with Stefano Zullian, owner of Araya Artisan Chocolate.

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Laura: Hi, everyone. I'm Laura Max, your host of The Light Files on the Businessmakers.com, brought to you by Audi Central Houston. I'm here today at Araya Chocolates with Stefano, one of the owners and founders. Stefano, welcome to the show.

Stefano: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Laura: It's so great to have you. You and your family, your wife and your sister-in-law, you started this chocolate shop about four or five years ago?

Stefano: Yeah, four years ago.

Laura: In your River Oaks location was your first location and you've recently opened your Uptown Park location less than a year ago. And what made you want to open a chocolate shop in Houston?

Stefano: It was more like a business opportunity. We noticed that nobody was doing these type of chocolates in Houston.

Laura: Now what's special about these chocolates is that they're Venezuelan chocolates and you're actually from Venezuela yourself.

Stefano: Yes. We all are from Venezuela and the chocolate is made with Venezuelan chocolate. The bundles are made with Venezuelan chocolate. The type of chocolate that we make is very European and actually the colors and the way we present it comes from Japan. Japan was one of the first countries that started doing this stuff with chocolate.

Laura: Wow, that's amazing. So people in Venezuela I've heard believe that Venezuelan chocolate is the best. I'm assuming you would agree.

Stefano: It is correct.

Laura: You have an incredible array of chocolates here. The little bites are 25 to 45 calories, so if you're in for a quick and delicious and healthy bite, you can come in here and grab one. I do all the time. And what's amazing about this chocolate shop is that five years ago, it wasn't even a thought in your mind. You actually got an MBA from Emory. Your wife did, as well, and so how did this come about?

Stefano: Well, we were living in Atlanta during the MBA and my mother-in-law used to come to visit us and tell us all the things about new chocolates that were coming in Venezuela and how things were doing there, and we were not even thinking about doing chocolate. We were into business, corporate, nothing to do with this type of business. We went back to Venezuela at one point in time, we said, "Okay, let's go back. What should we do?" We lay out the different options and we notice, "Okay, nobody's doing chocolate. Why don't we do this?"

Laura: At the time, no one was really selling chocolate.

Stefano: Nobody was doing chocolate like this in Houston. I mean all of the chocolatiers in the United States very well known that make chocolate like this but nobody in Houston. So we say, "Okay, perfect. How we do it?" We have a very good friend in Venezuela. She's a pastry chef. We told her, "Can you teach us?" Carla and I, my wife and I, we quit our jobs and we went to work for her.

Laura: No way. She taught you? You had no idea how to make chocolate?

Stefano: No way. I mean I knew how to eat a chocolate.

Laura: And she taught you. This is something that could definitely be in a movie, I think. I know how to eat chocolate, too. I eat a lot of chocolate. I could probably survive off of the food in here.

Stefano: Oh, definitely.

Laura: Do you eat the food in here all the time?

Stefano: I eat most of my inventory.

Laura: I would probably eat most of my inventory if I worked here, as well. That's fantastic. So tell me, you opened your store here less than a year ago, as we said. You'd had an experience opening another store in Houston before. What was it like opening a store in a new country, in a new place, with new people? How was that for you?

Stefano: Opening a new business is always difficult. Opening a new business in a new country is even more difficult.

Laura: Absolutely. I can imagine.

Stefano: We were fortunate that people in Houston were very welcoming of the thing that we were doing and how we were doing it and the places that we chose for the stores. So pretty soon, we got media attention and people's attention what we were doing, and pretty much the word of mouth is what helped us at the beginning.

Laura: You have to have a good product. That's the best marketing tool.

Stefano: Well, that's the foundation. I mean the foundation, you have to have a great product and people was the best PR agents that we have at that time.

Laura: Okay, so you work with your whole family, pretty much. What is that like for you?

Stefano: Well, let's put it this way. We never fall short of conversation.

Laura: I can imagine.

Stefano: We always have something to say, yeah, but the good thing is that we all have very different personalities. The approach that we have to the business is very different. Everybody fulfills a role.

Laura: Yeah, everybody has their strengths and they serve in different positions, and you guys actually have a little bit of fun here. I hear that last night, you actually helped somebody put an engagement ring in a chocolate egg.

Stefano: Yeah, we have done that. We have done that a couple of times. Sometimes it's great. Sometimes we have our adventures.

Laura: Your adventures? So if somebody wants to propose, they can put it in your delicious chocolate?

Stefano: Correct, yeah. We can do that.

Laura: Awesome. What kind of chocolates and treats can people find here?

Stefano: Well, you can have anything that is chocolate. We have dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, not many but we have also some. We have introduced new treats. Usually for different seasons, we have different chocolates. For example, for Mother's Day, then we make new recipes for that day or Father's Day.

Laura: You make things for the different holidays and you also have French macaroons in here.

Stefano: We have the French macaroons. Those are imported.

Laura: Which you bring in from France.

Stefano: From France. Those are the original ones, correct.

Laura: It makes them extra special. I've had them. They're delicious.

Stefano: Great. Thanks.

Laura: All right, well, it was great chatting with you today, Stefano.

Stefano: Thank you.

Laura: Thanks for being on the show.

Stefano: Thank you.

Laura: And I am your host, Laura Max. That's all for today on The Light Files, on the Businesmakers.com brought to you by Audi Central Houston. You can find us all the time on the Businesmakers.com and each weekend on Sunday at noon on News 92.1 FM. We'll see you again next week. Bye, everyone.

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