Coco Delice Fine Chocolates Chef Dennis Kearney recently announced the sad closing of his six-year Emeryville chocolate business effective August 31st. Kearney noted the elimination of a small business tax credit by the state and a recent 20% rent increase compounded with other increases were partially to blame. Kearney also noted that the two month old highest in the nation Minimum Wage Ordinance was probably “the straw that broke the camel’s back” for them.
Neighboring nonprofit The Bread Project that help train the low-income, refugees and those with employment barriers have also recently departed from Emeryville after a significant increase in operating costs. The rent for their 8,000 square foot space was recently increased from $11,000 to $16,000/mo. (45%) forcing them to move to Berkeley. Both parcels are owned and operated by Gerow Properties in Lafayette.
Photo: SF Weekly
Kearney noted that despite a growing economy, local financial pressures had recently become too much to bear for his business. “I don’t know if everyone understands the pressures on Small Business. Workman’s Comp increases, spiking rents, Healthcare, payroll taxes, our electric bill almost doubled … and now tack on the highest in the nation minimum wage? At $12.25/hr. we might have been able to squeak by but the trajectory was not sustainable for us”. Coco Delice employed twelve full-time and part-time people.
Kearney announced the sad closure in a letter to his customers:
Hello Coco Fans-
It is with mixed emotions that I let you know that Coco Delice Fine Chocolates will cease operations at the end of August, 2015.
It has been an amazing experience (almost 10 years!) with lots of ups and downs. As some of you know, that this company started out my desire to get in touch with my creative side. Never in my wildest dreams did I think one day I would be the founder and owner of a successful artisan chocolate company.
Through the years, I have amassed an incredible amount of technical knowledge and small business insight, some of it consciously and some of it thrust upon me. But what kept me going during times of doubt was the support and encouragement of Coco’s customers, many of whom have became wonderful friends. I was also fortunate to have some amazing staff work for me throughout the years and could not have gotten this far without them.
Looking ahead, I will be shifting my focus on trying to help other chocolate and confection oriented entrepreneurs as an outside consultant, helping them create and develop their skills and interests. I am still speaking with a number of small chocolate makers who might assume some of our products. I will share any updates with you once we know more. I am also looking forward to my first “normal” holiday season in many, many years!
As you know, there are so many passionate artisan confectioners these days, doing really cool and amazing things and they all need your support. It takes courage to pursue one’s dream, but it takes a dedicated community to nurture those businesses and help them grow.
In closing, I would like to offer a huge Thank You to each and every one of you who supported Coco Delice through the years. May you always find your “Sweet” spot when you need it.
Many of the students that The Bread Project trains were previously incarcerated, battling addictions or other employment barriers. One of the unintended consequences of the MWO may be the departure of nonprofits that tend to operate on thinner budgets (Photo: cuisinenoirmag.com).
Bread Project Executive Director Alicia Polak noted the tandem of massive rent increases with rising labor costs are a 1-2 punch to Emeryville small businesses and nonprofits like hers. Polak noted the impacts of the MWO on her business model had she been able to absorb the rent hike. “Of course it would have had to be a consideration had we stayed in Emeryville” noted Polak through a phone conversation. “There would have had to have been significant changes that may have included hiring fewer people, an increase in the price of our product … it would have been a real challenge, but I believe in innovation and ingenuity and we value our employees. These are the current realities for for-profit and nonprofit small business owners alike.”
Gourmet creations like this Bison Black Magic Chocolate helped put Coco Delice on the map (Photo: 650Food.com).
Coco Delice originally opened in Oakland in 2006 and moved to The Park Avenue District in 2009. They specialized in French-inspired chocolate treats, gift boxes and candy-making classes. Their product graced the shelves of premium grocery stores like Whole Foods and were honored within the industry for their chocolate artistry including a Good Foods Award last year.
Kearney liked the proximity to the freeway and the climate of Emeryville, but noted the city didn’t offer much of an advantage for his particular business model. “I’ve never been particularly fond of working with the city. The planners were difficult to work with and seemed to give preferential treatment to big business. I feel like if I was Dennis from Pixar, the city would be more likely to return my call than Dennis from Coco Delice. I wanted to put a sandwich board up during the Holidays to give us some exposure. I sent in the permit … and they never got back to me.”
“It’s not just the labor, everything is going up. I really don’t know how some people stay in business.” Dennis also expressed preference for a regional approach for any increases in to the Minimum Wage. “The Oakland Chocolate Company is literally a block away and their wage scale puts us at a bit of a disadvantage.”
What’s next for Dennis? Coco Delice has already begun selling off their assets and will completely vacate the spot by the end of the month. Dennis plans on taking a short trip to Hawaii to clear his head and then strategize his next career move that may involve something on the consultant side of confectionary business or go back to his “day job” as an Environmental Consultant.
When asked if Dennis would consider Emeryville for his next business venture, he paused. “I think If I was, I would probably look at Sacramento. My advice is to make sure you have a viable business model in the location for what you want to do. Unfortunately, mine apparently was not here in Emeryville”.