As a one-man operation, CFC Chocolatier has romanced its way into sales and success.

Patrick Aldred, founder of Tulsa, Okla.-based CFC Chocolatier.

Imagine you’re walking through Venice on a bright, warm day. A light breeze pushes you through the historic Italian buildings with a view of gondolas on the water. You walk into a local chocolate shop and are bombarded by the smell of rich, premium Belgian chocolates. As you get closer to the counter, you see the beautifully designed artisan chocolates in dozens of different shapes, sizes and flavors. This is the kind of imagery you can find at CFC Chocolatier, but in a completely different location.

There’s a bit of irony to the imagery, however, given that CFC Chocolatier founder Patrick Aldred realized that vision in his garage in 2002. Aldred’s vision and chocolate making eventually led him to open an 1,800-sq.-ft. wholesale/retail facility in Tulsa, Okla., a journey that had its roots in the United Kingdom.

“Originally I was working for a chocolate company called Bellina,” he explains. “I was travelling to Belgium, Holland and France picking up various chocolate goods and delivering them to shops throughout the United Kingdom and that progressed to manufacturing chocolate and learning from the Belgians how to make what they call pralines, or we often call truffles,” Aldred says.

At Bellina, Aldred had 30 people working under him at a semi-automatic operation, making around 7,000 lbs. of chocolate a week.

Then Aldred moved on to found the U.K. sales operation for an ingredient company called Belcolade, part of the Puratos Group, where he sold chocolate ingredients that came directly from Belgium to the U.K. After a year of work there, Aldred was asked to set up a Belcolade operation in the U.S., where he started from scratch and generated enough sales to justify an investment in an old Ghirardelli factory in Kenosha, Wis. At this location, the company created the domestic name Debelis for chocolate ingredients production.

After working in the chocolate industry for years, Aldred decided it was finally time to open up his own chocolate facility.

“There came a turning point then in my life that I just had to go back to making chocolates. That was where my passion was,” Aldred says. So he transformed his garage into a chocolate facility where he could make his own chocolates with a theme of Venice, Italy.

After Aldred honeymooned in Venice, he got the idea to create chocolates that could bring Italian romance to anyone who ate them. One of Aldred’s key pieces is the chocolate gondola, which is made from a mould that he designed himself with the help of specialist mould maker JKV in Holland. The connection proved fruitful resulting in his first gondola mould. 

At a dessert show in Las Vegas, Aldred was showcasing some of his chocolates, including the chocolate gondola, when a buyer for the Venetian walked by. The man saw the gondola and connected Aldred with his boss so they could consummate his corporate contract. The added volume forced Aldred to move his operation from the garage to a larger building. In 2004, Aldred opened his first wholesale chocolate facility in Laguna Hills, Calif. At this location, the business was 100% wholesale with Italian-themed products such as chocolate gondolas, Venetian masks and Italian- flavored chocolates like Limoncello, Frangelico, Fragola and Cafe’ Latte to name a few.

Aldred stayed at the Laguna Hills location for two years before making another major move. Because it was becoming too difficult to ship product out to the East Coast with chocolate freshness concerns and high shipping costs, Aldred transferred his operation to a 1,800-sq.-ft. facility in downtown Tulsa, Okla.

“The idea was, you’re in Tulsa, you’re right in the middle of America. You can ship to either coast and the freight is not so painful,” Aldred says.

Besides its convenient shipping location, the area is undergoing a renaissance. A 50,000-sq.-ft. Indian art museum is being built right across the street from the store. By the end of 2006, CFC Chocolatier not only had more production space, but had room for a retail store in front. Aldred also set up a new, innovative Web site. Still, the business remains mostly wholesale with retail and Web site sales accounting for about 10% of total revenues.

No matter where the location, CFC Chocolatier’s style makes it stand out. Aldred has created 97 different chocolates ranging from his creative specialty chocolates as well as holistic-inspired Quartz Crystal chocolates to chocolate collections and customer-specific pieces.

Two of CFC Chocolatier’s specialty chocolates, the chocolate gondolas and masks, reflect Aldred’s signature style. To make a gondola, Aldred first brushes both sides of the mould with chocolate (dark, milk or white) making sure not to over brush. Then he fits the sides together and fills the mould with chocolate. He empties the mould and sets it aside to dry while any excess chocolate leaks out. This is the first coat. After a few minutes, the mould is set in the refrigerator to cool before the second coat. Once both coats of chocolate have been applied, the mould is placed in the refrigerator again to cool for a few more minutes. The cold temperature shrinks the chocolate out of the mould so it is ready to be decorated. For the last step, Aldred uses liquid chocolate to glue Gianduja hearts and the white chocolate fin onto the gondola. The same steps are taken in creating the masks, but instead of painting the mould first with chocolate, the mould is painted with colored cocoa butter.

Another Aldred trademark are his Quartz Crystal chocolates. In an effort to mirror the healing qualities of crystals, Aldred created nine chocolate crystals: Jasper (iron support), Carnelian (energize), Citrine (purification), Emerald (immune system support), Turquoise (stress relief), Amethyst (calming), Smokey Quartz (uplifting), Rose Quartz (love lift) and Clear Quartz (meditation). The ingredients used in each chocolate crystal mimic the healing powers of each crystal. For example, the Turquoise crystal gives emotional balance, peace of mind and strengthens the body. To mirror these effects, Aldred has created a turquoise-colored chocolate in 72% dark chocolate. The dark chocolate is full of antioxidants that support the immune system and prevent plaque from forming in arteries. Other ingredients in the chocolate are: wild honey, which helps with allergies and infections such as the common cold; molasses, a good source of potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron; chamomile tea, which reduces tension and anxiety; and rose extract, which also reduces stress and restores the body. These ingredients combined form a chocolate crystal with similar healing powers to the actual Turquoise crystal.

“It’s a treat and it’s actually good for you,” Aldred says. All of the Quartz Crystal chocolates contain endorphins, which lift your spirits, he adds. Fat-containing foods, like chocolate, have endorphins proven to lift a person’s mood. By combining healthy ingredients with chocolate, consumers can indulge in a good-for-you treat.

Of all of Aldred’s chocolates, there are a select few “best sellers” that people just can’t get enough of.

“One of the most popular pieces, or favorites, is Tiramisu, which has a mocha ganache with the flavors of tiramisu. It’s a white chocolate cream base filling in a milk chocolate cup topped with white chocolate and people just love it. It’s purely decadent,” Aldred says.

Other best sellers include: Cocoa Rouge Ganache (72% Ghana cocoa in a rich cream ganache topped with a dusting of French cocoa powder), Walnut Fudge Brownie (layers of walnut praline and dark chocolate ganache in dark chocolate with a toasted spiced walnut on top), Raspberry Chocolate Cake (raspberry fruit jelly with a dark chocolate cream ganache in a dark chocolate shell), PBJ (wild strawberry jelly with peanut butter in milk chocolate), Blueberry Crumb Pie (blueberry syrup and concentrated blueberries in a butter ganache covered in milk chocolate and topped with caramelized hazelnuts) and Key Lime Pie (key lime flavor with a milk chocolate ganache sealed in white chocolate and covered in green cocoa butter).

But let’s not forget about CFC Chocolatier’s raison d’être chocolate: Champagne Fragola. CFC Chocolatier, CFC standing for Champagne Fragola Cioccolato (Champagne, Strawberries and Chocolate), started off with the idea to create champagne gift sets, which inspired this signature piece. The Champagne Fragola chocolate combines the flavors of champagne and strawberries in a white chocolate and cream ganache. The chocolate is coated in either milk or dark chocolate.

A few of these popular chocolates can be found in Aldred’s new Dessert Collection. New flavors Boston Crème Pie, Strawberry Mousse, Coconut Crème Pie, Peach Cobbler, Lemon Fool, Passionate Fool and Pistachio Fool join flavors Rum and Vanilla Panna Cotta, Key Lime Pie, Walnut Fudge Brownie, Raspberry Chocolate Cake, Caramel Apple Pie, Banana’s Fosters, Flourless Chocolate Cake, Blueberry Crumb Pie, Tiramisu and Maple and Pecan Pie to form the collection.

Aldred plans to make the new collection available to hotels and restaurants where chefs could create a dessert out of them.

“If we were to plate out five or seven chocolates in a row and give a description, that would give the chef an option that he/she wouldn’t have to make themselves,” Aldred says. “It gives the chefs options in terms of color and look. They can do some interesting stuff when you put them out.”

CFC Chocolatier also offers other collections like the Angel of Peace collection for the holidays and the Café collection.

Believe it or not, Aldred’s chocolates are not the only things unique to the company. The packaging for the chocolates features creased purple paper or gray with a diamond gem in the corner. The company also creates 3-tier boxes that can be used long after the chocolates are gone. 

Aldred has also started making customized chocolates for corporations seeking to reinforce their identity in an indulgent manner.

“I can take anybody’s logo and get their name on their own chocolate piece and then we discuss the flavor,” Aldred says.

One of Aldred’s biggest wholesale customers-Faith, Hope and…Chocolate!-has begun the process of creating their own customized chocolate. The company also sells a majority of CFC Chocolatiers’ chocolates.

“When someone has such a passion and a love for what they do, it just comes out,” says owner and president of Faith, Hope and…Chocolate! Gina Battle about CFC Chocolatier Patrick Aldred. “It’s a new medium to spread love.”

Battle went on to explain that all of her customers love Aldred’s chocolates: restaurateurs, country clubs, even the most discerning types-kids. She points out that most children will eat any chocolate put in front of them, but not one little girl.

“There is a little 5-year-old girl that won’t eat any other chocolate and makes her parents take her here any time she wants something sweet or if it’s a treat or holiday,” says Battle. “She’s not even in school yet.”

Anyone who tries a CFC Chocolatier chocolate will understand this little girl’s preference for Aldred’s chocolates. With such a large variety, there’s sure to be something for everybody. And there’s always more to come.

“Ultimately what I want to end up doing [in the retail store] is a chocolate lounge,” says Aldred. “I’m trying to plan that as the next stage.”

Aldred also has some new chocolates planned for the near future. He’s currently working on a Margarita chocolate and spicy Piccante chocolate.

“It must be due to my creative nature that leaves me believing that perhaps there will always be another new chocolate from CFC,” says Aldred.