Business

Carter's Chocolates owner hopes quality will trump quantity

Matt Carter recently opened a high-end chocolate shop in Towne Square Port Orchard. - Charlie Bermant/Staff Photo
Matt Carter recently opened a high-end chocolate shop in Towne Square Port Orchard.
— image credit: Charlie Bermant/Staff Photo

An economic downturn isn’t the best time to be selling luxury items, but Port Orchard business owner Matt Carter is optimistic.

Halloween, when kids hoard as much candy as possible in a single evening and then try to eat it as quickly as possible, is an American tradition.

So the idea that chocolate is a luxury item to be savored slowly doesn’t fit our preconceived notion about what is for some the most major of food groups.

Carter’s Chocolates, one of the newest components of the revitalization of South Kitsap Mall, is striving to change that attitude. And although the store has been open less than a month, Carter thinks he is well on the way to changing this prevailing opinion.

“One of the best things that happens here is when someone comes in with the idea that chocolate should be cheap, sold in big bags, and eaten in large quantities” he said. “They see that I sell small quantities at fairly high prices. They buy a few pieces, walk out and don’t expect to come back.

“But they do come right back — and say this is the best chocolate they have ever had,” he said. “They have grown up on Hershey’s and Nestle’s, and haven’t tasted real chocolate before.”

In fact, Carter’s chocolates are small, rich and meant to be eaten one small bite at a time. Those accustomed to scarfing down a bag of M&Ms will need to readjust their technique.

Carter’s chocolates, generally known a “truffles,” vary in price depending on the ingredients. On average, customers can spend $5 for three truffles.

Two significant differences between Carter’s offerings and mass produced chocolates is the origin and the ingredients.

While he may offer high-class “imported” brands in the future, the entire inventory is made by Carter in the back of the shop from his own recipes. And all the ingredients are natural and organic.

“These chocolates are better because they have better ingredients,” Carter said. “Everything, the cream and the butter, is organic. It was not grown using a bunch of fertilizer and chemicals. The packaging is biodegradable. Everything is good for the environment. I don’t want to run my business as a detriment to the planet we live on.”

Enjoying Carter’s chocolates then becomes its own reward. And even if the average quantity-beats-quality crowd will stick with their M&Ms, there is a substantial market for high class chocolate — even in a struggling economy.

“When I was planning this business, I didn’t realize they were scheduling a depression,” Carter said. “But I still think that I can succeed in today’s economy. People are being forced to cut back, and they won’t buy a boat or a summer house. But they will treat themselves to a few pieces of really good chocolate.

“It is a luxury item that doesn’t cost all that much,” he said. “Even as people are cutting back on a lot of the bigger items they will still treat themselves to chocolate.”

The original plan for the business was to operate out of Carter’s home and build a commercial kitchen in his garage. Sales would be through mail order and the Internet, and would have no overhead.

This plan was scuttled by regulations that make it difficult and expensive to operate a large kitchen on a septic system.

Even though South Kitsap Mall doesn’t draw enough foot traffic to support his business, Carter sees the location as a tremendous opportunity. He operates his kitchen in the back of the shop without having to retrofit his house to meet environmental standards. And the walk-ins will help him to spread the word and support his online business.

Carter said that he hasn’t tried any wild combinations, like chocolate and curry. Instead, he sticks to tried and true formulas that use liqueurs and other blends.

He is planning a grand opening event later this month and expects to at least break even during the holiday season.

“I am getting a lot of positive response,” he said. “And I have many regular customers who come in and buy one truffle at a time.”

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