The family-owned startup's products were previously only available in specialty retail outlets, mainly coffee shops across Florida.
Before Pinellas Chocolate’s current owner, Addam Vessa, started the business, he and his brother were working for their parents’ company, which manufactures, micro batch and laboratory scale chocolate equipment.
“We had a demo kitchen for the machines, and they were making chocolate on a semi-regular basis,” Vessa told ConfectioneryNews. “Toward the end of 2014, we decided certify the kitchen and incorporate the chocolate company as its own endeavor.”
Vessa has also previously worked in the marketing and media division of a small batch chocolate equipment firm, called Cacao Cucina, according to his LinkedIn account.
Pinellas Chocolate now offers single-origin dark chocolate with various flavors, including 62% salted lime, Datil pepper and peppermint.
Drawing customers to the store
Commenting on why the company decided to open a new shop, Vessa said, “Our commercial kitchen is here in Largo and the facility is very reasonable from an overhead standpoint. That said, we’re in more or less an industrial area so foot traffic isn’t pretty much non-existent.”
“We’re trying to draw customers in from our markets and events by offering in-store coupons and we’re planning on adding more events into the agenda for 2017.”
“As of now, the new retail store is only open from Thursday to Saturday, allowing us the rest of the week to allocate mostly for manufacturing and deliveries,” Vessa added.
Working with sourcing partners
As a single-origin chocolate producer, Pinellas Chocolate primarily sources cocoa beans from a friend, named Jorge Schmidt, who oversees a project called BioSphere. The project exports Honduran cocoa to the US and Europe, said Vessa.
However, Pinellas Chocolate itself does not participate in any sustainability programs, he added.
“Being a small manufacturer, we try and seek out suppliers who are involved in sustainability initiatives,” Vessa said. “Transmar Group, for example, has origin staff who are fully dedicated to its sustainability work in Ghana in order to provide its customers with UTZ certified cocoa.”
In addition, the company also works with Chocolate Alchemy, and it is hoping to bring on more sourcing partners in the future.
“I think people will continue to embrace craft, small batch and single-origin chocolate. In the last 10 to 12 years, we’ve seen the emergence of chocolate as a ‘thing’ so to speak, whereas beer, wine, coffee and other specialty foods have held the moniker a little longer,” Vessa said. “I think fans of the aforementioned categories will eventually begin to seek out higher-end specialty products in other areas, chocolate being one.”
Pinellas Chocolate did not disclose its financial details, but it is expected to surpass this year’s growth rate in 2017.
“[In the next year], we’d like to put more emphasis on increasing retail shop traffic, adding a web store to our site and promoting custom projects for both special events and private label,” Vessa said.