Serving Up Something Sweet
How Toronto’s The Chocolateria Keeps Things Fresh
The Chocolateria in Toronto has been a thriving business for over 12 years. In 2021, the original owner, Tim English, was ready to retire — that’s when longtime fan and customer Asraa stepped in and purchased the beloved local business. She had been looking for the right small business opportunity and this seemed to be a perfect fit; the business was doing well, she loved the product, and the timing was right. Since then, Asraa has become well-versed in all things chocolate and has kept this community gem alive in the Ontario neighbourhood. We connected with her to learn about what inspired her to buy the business and how she imagines expanding it within Canada and beyond.
Rogers Business: Tell us a little bit about your business.
Asraa: The business has been functional for 12 years, but I bought it last year and I have 10 employees right now. Everything we sell is made in-house, from the chocolate to the toffee and ice cream. I discovered The Chocolateria when I was in the Roncesvalles area for a Polish Festival about four years ago. After that, I kept coming back to the area just to visit and get treats. When Tim was looking to retire, it felt like the perfect opportunity for me.
Rogers Business: What inspired you to buy a small business?
Asraa: I worked a nine-to-five job in tech banking. Before I moved to Canada, I owned and ran a small business in Dubai. I wanted something similar here and wanted to find something special. Then, the opportunity presented itself and I decided to take the leap. Since it was already operating and successful, it made it a little easier to manage, so it was less scary. Tim did an amazing job coming up with all the products. It took him years to put together and it’s something I really wanted to continue; that gave me the drive.
I spent the first month training with the previous owner and learning how to do everything. Making chocolate is exhausting and very hard, but it’s also fun. Working with Tim, training with him and seeing how passionate he was about this was definitely inspiring.
Rogers Business: What made you choose your current location?
Asraa: It’s a very nice neighbourhood and it’s more of a community, which is really good for a small business. The community has been amazing and has supported us a lot. During COVID-19, the previous owner was able to stay open because people were buying things at the door, just to support local businesses so nobody shut down. It’s a great community.
Rogers Business: What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a small business owner?
Asraa: It’s not as easy as it sounds. I take it day-to-day and I’m always open to learn, even from my own employees. My head chocolatier, Priscilla, knows way more than all of us. She’s been here for seven years and seven Christmases. I couldn’t do this without her.
I’m always open to suggestions; I involve my employees in coming up with ideas and I run things by them. Since it was an operating business, it looks like everything is easy, but it’s not. You’re always learning.
Rogers Business: How do you get the word out about your business?
Asraa: It’s a lot of word of mouth. People tell each other about our business. A lot of people in the neighbourhood tell their friends outside the neighbourhood. I’ll get people from out of town, even from the United States, and they’ll say, “We heard about you guys,” and they come in to buy our products. I’m trying to expand on the social media aspect as well. Our Google reviews are great; people in Toronto search ‘chocolate’ and we come up at the top of the list.
Rogers Business: What is your best-selling product? Tell us a little bit about it.
Asraa: Our best-seller is our sponge toffee — that’s dipped in chocolate, of course. We make the sponge toffee in-house, and then we dip it in our own chocolate. It’s fresh and crunchy, and it’s our top seller that never stays on the shelves — never. No matter how much we make, it always sells out. We don’t mass produce, so everything is freshly made. People come in just to get our toffee, and if it’s not on the shelf, they get upset. There are many days that I have to package it directly off the tray because there are people waiting to buy it.
Rogers Business: What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a small business?
Asraa: Finding the right staff is still my biggest challenge. We’re overcoming it by knowing exactly what we want, what we expect from the staff, and understanding what we need. That helps us know who to hire and what positions to put them in. It’s been getting better ever since.
Rogers Business: What is your vision for the future of your business?
Asraa: I’d like to expand internationally. I’d like to have a couple of shops in Toronto, and then hopefully Montreal and maybe Vancouver. After that, I’d like to make my way back to Dubai, which is home for me. I definitely want to expand internationally.
Rogers Business: What advice would you give to someone looking to get started?
Asraa: Just go for it. Don’t overthink it. It’s scary but if you don’t do it, it’s never going to get done. If you think an idea is a good idea, just go for it. A lot of people wait and say, “It’s not the right time. I’m too scared. I can’t do it now.” You can start as small as you want and take it from there, but you have to start somewhere.
Where can we find your business online? (Please share any social media handles, websites, etc.)
Instagram: @ thechocolateria
Facebook: The Chocolateria