Off the Beaten Career Path

A Sweet Business Model For a Pair of Chocoholics

Sunday, February 8, 2009

When you love chocolate as much as Biagio Abbatiello and William Knight do, you learn to say no. Especially when your shop has 300 square feet and already is crammed.

People often come into the store on 18th Street in Northwest Washington with chocolates for the partners to taste. "They want us to try it in front of them. That's something we will not do," said Knight, who grew up in Trinidad eating the sap from the cocoa trees. Instead, during quiet moments the two men and one other staffer will sample and chat about the chocolate, considering how it fits their lineup.

"We wanted to be curators of fine chocolate," said Abbatiello, who is on leave from his job as a United flight attendant until after the Valentine's Day rush.

Most people who open chocolate shops have a passion for the candy; some have pastry or confectionery chef credentials. But for now, Knight and Abbatiello do not intend to make their own chocolates.

They love to work with customers, but find the minutiae of business difficult. And they're still figuring out how to make the two-year-old shop enough of a success so they can quit their other jobs.

Knight, who has worked as a freelance video editor, figures they each eat about 3.5 ounces of chocolate a day, often in small slivers along with customers. And he sees a business reason for sampling: "We want to be fresh in our brains how that chocolate tastes, to discern different notes in the chocolate."

-- Vickie Elmer

© 2009 The Washington Post Company