Juliette & Chocolat
Juliette Brun established Juliette & Chocolat in 2003 in a small storefront with an even smaller kitchen. The first location served as a full-service restaurant with a limited savory menu, specialty chocolates, desserts and cocoa. After more than 10 years in business, Juliette & Chocolat has grown to six locations with larger menus and handcrafted sweets for customers in and around Montreal and one chocolate lab for production
Brun, president and owner of Juliette & Chocolat, attended Mc Gill University and earned a degree in economics and finance. With a lifelong love of all things culinary, she knew she had always wanted to work in the food industry. “I always thought I would end up there when I retired and didn’t have to worry about children or other commitments,” she explains. “But when I finished school, I had no major expenses, such as a car or a home. I had time and energy to start my own business.”
The young entrepreneur set out to find a viable niche in the Quebec food market. She saw that coffee had already become oversaturated and saw that chocolate was an untapped market. She soon took off for France to do a residency in chocolate making. Upon her return, Brun felt prepared to open her first store. Her husband, Lionel May was an early addition to the company’s staff. May is Belgian and shares her passion for quality chocolates. He now serves as the company’s vice president.
Catering to refined tastes
While the popularity of chocolate is nothing new, Brun explains that awareness and appreciation for dark chocolate has increased significantly over the last decade. Cocoa prices are on the rise, making chocolate more of a luxury than ever. In the early years of operation, Brun and May imported chocolates from Europe. Now that chocolate has grown as a commodity, it has become easier to find domestic suppliers.
Now there is more selection available in the market. “We still import some items, but there is a lot to choose from,” says Brun. “Chocolate is no longer as much of a specialty item and we are not dealing as frequently with minimum orders. We can find a wider range of chocolate more easily on the market, but we are still selective. We are always striving to stay ahead and trying to be different and better than competitors.”
In November 2014, Brun and May introduced a new menu for the café’s six locations. The business is now offering new pastries and savory items as well as new waffles. With such a strong passion for her work, Brun has to reel in the enthusiasm every so often. “You can’t do all the ideas you come up with,” she laments. “Sometimes things just add too much complication. The waffles are now live though and my husband introduced me to Belgian waffles. It has been a real journey with a lot of experimenting to get it just right.”
The couple have also introduced a new line of chocolate bonbons, made in-house. As of December 2014, Juliette & Chocolat offers three lines of bonbons. The praline line is comprised of chocolates filled with hazelnut, almond, pistachio and speculoos filling. The melting interiors line offers sweets packed with gooey caramel and fruit crèmes. The last is two-layer chocolate, with specialty fillings, including dark and milk chocolates and liqueurs.
As the business has brought more production in-house, Brun and May face new challenges. With the cost of the company’s main ingredient in a steady increase, Juliette & Chocolat was forced to raise prices to cover expenses.
“It is hard to educate consumers and get people to understand that cocoa prices move up,” Brun explains. “We make 90 percent of what we sell in-house. These are high-quality chocolates, made using high-end ingredients. We run a very labor-intensive business and our costs account for our staff and the quality of our products.”
Still, Brun’s fine chocolates are an affordable luxury. The market is picking back up after a drop in 2008. More people are going out to eat and Juliette & Chocolate has seen a steady increase in traffic. With a growing in-house product line, Brun plans to sell the company’s chocolates online and in other boutiques.
Production is on the rise for the business and Brun’s creations are garnering attention from discerning sweet lovers throughout Canada. Looking ahead at 2015, the Juliette & Chocolat team will continue to build a sweet business, making specialty European chocolates for customers in Quebec and beyond.