Coffee Break Chat: Entrepreneur and Chocolatier Sherrian Edgar

St Lucian entrepreneur Sherrian Edgar spent 15 years in the banking industry before deciding to pursue her passion for baking and chocolate and retrain as a chocolatier.

After selling cakes, cookies and pies to family and friends for three years, she officially launched her catering company CoCoLove in 2017. Sherrian’s diverse range of sweet treats are popular and her business is growing largely because of several repeat customers.

Yello asked Sherrian about her life in St Lucia and her love for chocolate and baking. She also offered words of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Tell us a bit about your background.

I’m a country girl at heart. I grew up in the small community of Augier on a large estate owned by my grandparents.

I loved going to school and was always very competitive. I attended public schools from Augier Combined School to Vieux Fort Comprehensive Secondary School and then the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College.

I spent a lot of my childhood days outdoors on swings made of old tires or wood and when I wasn’t outside, I’d be watching my favorite Sesame Street episodes. I enjoyed picking mangoes and guavas, which were plentiful when in season, and accompanying my grandfather on early mornings to milk the cows or tie them out for pasture.

I also spent a lot of time with my parents at their restaurant before or after school hours.

I paid close attention to setting the tables and how my mom made sure all the tables looked perfect and ready to receive guests.

The tablecloths were very white, the water glasses were spotless, the napkins were folded and tucked into the glasses, everything was in position. I also watched my dad entice the guests with the Shak Shak or local quadrille music (which are still his favourites).

What was your favourite food when you were young?

I loved mangoes and still do!

I always had a sweet tooth, but we never had junk food lying around so naturally I’d run to the mango trees, or the plum trees, anything sweet would do!

I also leaned towards Asian and Indian dishes, such as rice and talcari, which made pepper a must-have in our home.

When did you develop a love for baking and chocolate?

My love for baking started very early but I never realised it.

The first cake I tried to make, when I was about 13 years old, didn’t turn out great. I’d make one for any birthday coming up but still didn’t have a love for baking, but more for the expression of love by baking or cooking.

I’d say my love for it came in 2008 when I started experimenting with flavours and textures in search of the best chocolate cake recipe.

I made pies and cakes at least once a month from a recipe book and would share them with my neighbours, co-workers and friends and await their reviews impatiently. Even now I still await my clients reviews with the same excitement.

My keen interest in creating art with food led me towards my current profession as a chocolatier.

Did you know you wanted to make a career out of food?

Growing up I never really knew what I wanted to become, except I always wanted to have my own business. I chose courses that I naturally excelled in along the lines of secretarial and business. I was able to type at least 100 words per minute and got my first full time job as a clerk/typist soon after leaving school.

I stayed in the banking sector for almost 15 years at RBTT/RBC where I gained experience through different roles which shaped me for what was to come.

In 2015 my career in the banking sector reached its climax, and I knew that this was the beginning of my new adventure. I searched for opportunities to study anything to do with chocolate and enrolled in the professional chocolatier programme at Ecole Chocolat Professional School of Chocolate Arts in Canada.

While studying I realised that my love for chocolate was growing with every new mold. Painting chocolate molds was a way of expressing myself through colour.

I quickly transferred my knowledge of creating artfully crafted bonbons to making layered desserts. I finished my programme in 2016.

I’d never have thought that baking and chocolate would be in my heart and I’d make a career out of it.

When did you start your business CoCoLove?

When I made the best chocolate cake I could for a friend. She was my first client and she pushed me to offer cakes for sale. I baked chocolate cakes from the kitchen in my small apartment for close friends and family and soon I was in demand for other products such as cheesecakes, cookies, pies etc.

When the orders became more regular, I realised that I needed to have a name to match my passion. My happy place is working with chocolate; it’s an amazing ingredient and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.

I chose a name that reflected my innermost passion; my love for chocolate.

Between 2016 and 2017, my clientele grew, and I realised that I needed a bigger kitchen and staff if I was going to continue offering my passion as a product to the public.

I wanted to do things the right way and opened my first licensed commercial kitchen in 2017.

What was the toughest challenge you faced setting up the business? How did you overcome it?

When I set up the business, I really was clueless.

I started by calling government departments to find out what I needed to do legally and what was required of a new entrepreneur in the food manufacturing industry.

I familiarised myself with food standards, employment law or any document related to opening and running a successful small business. I joined free support groups and engaged with other entrepreneurs to draw on their experiences.

I was determined to be successful and tried as much as possible to ensure it was done correctly.

My toughest challenge was trying to wear so many hats at the same time. I had to keep taking orders, find my stock, do all the baking and deliveries and take care of my two young children.

It was one of my toughest periods. I had little sleep and spent little time with my family. I managed to juggle them all of this with support from my husband and our loyal babysitter.

How has the business been developing?

CocoLove is gradually becoming a household name. We attract new clients every month and retain them; 95% of my clients are return clients and I’m most grateful for that. They help grow my business by referring friends and family and this seems to work better than using other forms of advertising.

I’ve been able to employ one full-time and one part-time employee, one of which I’m currently mentoring to eventually manage my pastry or chocolate lab.

After doing this for three years I’ve learned how to manage my costs and time more effectively to achieve maximum output, so not only has the business grown but I, as an individual, have developed a whole new skill set.

Our pastry / dessert list of offerings has also grown to incorporate gluten free, sugar-free and vegan items to ensure we cater for all who have a love for our desserts or chocolates.

There’s never a dull moment in our kitchen as we experiment with different flours, flavours, sweeteners, leavening agents or just create a new recipe based on client preferences.

What products does CocoLove offer?

We offer dessert buffets, layered desserts, wedding cakes, assorted artisan Chocolates, gift baskets, wedding favours, birthday cakes, personalised petit fours and chocolates, and private lunch deliveries for special occasions.

We also do occasional catering for small to medium groups.

What is the unique selling point for CoCoLove?

CocoLove’s motto is “going great lengths to satisfy,” and that is exactly what we do. We believe our products should look as good as they taste. We focus on every possible detail and listen to what our clients call for.

We source the freshest ingredients from our farmers, from vanilla beans to lemons and herbs, and I also raid my mom’s garden!

We sensitise our clients on our use of real dark chocolate and fresh local products with no preservatives. Our clients can even taste our products or samples before making large purchases.

We don’t stick to one recipe just because we’re comfortable with it. We’ve had to tweak many recipes to incorporate specialty flours, sweeteners or dietary restrictions. We always ensure our clients feel connected and satisfied with their purchase.

Is there anything you wished you’d known before you started the business?

I don’t think I’d change the order of events surrounding the start-up of CocoLove.

I think the challenges, like the unknown dynamics of the market, helped me prepare for tough situations and reminded me that change is constant. In business you need to be ready for any change in demand.

Being in business is always a risk but it’s one that can be very rewarding.

What do you like most about being an entrepreneur?

I love the flexibility and being in control of the direction of the business.

I can manage my work flows, client orders, my marketing plans, and overall business management. I can attend my children’s school activities and spend time as needed with the family.

I determine my rest days so I can recharge and keep my creativity fresh and exciting.

Who are the bakers / entrepreneurs you admire?

I am my parents’ biggest fan. I carefully absorbed most of my mom’s cooking styles and always loved my Dad’s lobster thermidor and roasted fish.

I was always ready to assist my grandmother in making sweet Indian treats every Sunday in preparation for her visit to the sick and elderly at the hospital.

I also drew on the experience and knowledge of my younger brother who’s a chef and entrepreneur and taught me that presentation was everything.

I learned from all generations and embraced any opportunity to learn something new.

What are your plans for the next five years?

I intend to keep raising the bar in supplying chocolates and desserts on the island.

My vision for my business has only been shared with my husband who continues to support my dreams and goals.

I’ll continue to create new flavours for our chocolates and desserts to keep it exciting for our clients.

What do you love about St Lucia?

St Lucia is my home, what is there not to love!

I live on an island where others pay to vacation. I love the beaches, the beautiful weather and being able to access fresh sun-ripened fruits and vegetables.

Where do you go to relax on your days off?

My home is always my first choice for relaxation; curled up on the sofa watching my favorite TV series.

I also love spending time with my family at the beach or park or making a surprise visit to our relatives in the south.

Any time away from my kitchen is spent with the people I cherish.

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

I’d say to use each day as a new day. Don’t allow failure to discourage you.

You’ll encounter challenges and competition will be ever present, just bring your ‘A’ game no matter what field you decide to go into.

Embrace your mistakes and take note of them to ensure they aren’t repeated. Hold yourself accountable and don’t blame others.

Search for CocoLove on Find Yello St Lucia for more information, or visit the CocoLove Facebook page to place an order.

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