It was late 2019 and Brendan Patrick’s young boutique chocolate shop was, in a word, cute.
He had just moved Belle Chocolates to North Market Street, where he shares space with FarmToMed. He says sales were brisk over the 2019 holidays, slowing down a bit in January, but recovering before Valentine’s Day 2020.
“Right in front of the gate it was full like everyone out there,” he says. “Everything I did sold immediately.”
Then came March and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s terrifying to be a small business owner when people stop shopping,” he says. “It’s shocking to go from constant sales, profit distributions, and debt payments to having no income for two weeks.
“You wonder if you’ll be here in six months,” he says.
When the world seemed to stand still, 36-year-old Patrick pushed on. He says he highlighted his online platform and figured out how to safely ship his bean-to-bar chocolates.
And an association he made just months earlier was key to his survival, he adds.
“I’ve been part of the Main Street Farmers Market since mid-2019,” he says. “The vendors share my values. It was the most consistent market I’ve ever seen and it literally carried me through the first few months of lockdown.”
Patrick is from Florida and grew up in the hospitality industry. When he moved to Chattanooga in 2012 for a very specific reason, he was everything from dishwasher to sous chef.
“Climbing,” he says. “I was in Tampa, worked all the time, and needed an electrical outlet. I found a rock climbing studio and was instantly hooked.
“Then I read about climbing in Chattanooga and started taking weekend trips. I drove all night Friday, slept in the parking lot at the Soddy-Daisy Walmart, climbed two days in a row, and then drove home in time to come Monday work, “he says.
In 2018 Patrick worked for Erik Niel – first at Easy Bistro and then at Main Street Meats.
“Erik is an amazing cook and I appreciate everything these two restaurants do,” he says. “It’s about quality ingredients, not how many people you can cram in the door.”
Patrick says he’s started thinking “how to make really great desserts,” especially chocolate. Then he went on a short vacation to Idyllwild, California, which “literally changed my life,” he says.
“I found a little chocolate shop that sells beans by bar,” he says. “I bought one of everything and ate everything. And I thought, ‘I can do this.'”
* Address: 502 Nordmarktstr. No. 110
* Website: bellechocolates.com
* Owner: Brendan Patrick
After doing some research, Patrick says he bought the “entry-level” version of the equipment he needed to make his own chocolate and started experimenting in his own kitchen. He opened Belle Chocolates in January 2019 but says he didn’t go all-in for it.
“I’ve never overwhelmed myself,” he says. “Work with less capacity. Nobody else has to pay, such low overheads and more freedom to cut costs when I need it. Always be on the safe side.
“Maybe I’ll miss some opportunities,” says Patrick, “but if I had taken out a big loan and had to pay it all back, I would have been finished. I’m definitely not done yet.” [the pandemic], but we’ve all adjusted to shop safely and business is doing better than ever.
“Chattanooga has been amazing at helping local businesses during this pandemic madness,” he says. “Having a community that wants a local business to be successful made all the difference.”