An Entrepreneurial Chef Savors the Sweet Taste of Success


Many of the luxury brands we think of are centuries-old, European brands. How do you create an aura of luxury for the modern, everyday consumer?
People always want nice things — and they especially love to gift nice things. We make sure that luxury comes through in every part of our experience, from our thick, editorially photographed catalogs to our website, boutiques and packaging.

My uncle John, who spent years working in the mail-order division of Neiman Marcus, really taught me the importance of pairing a story with actual physical merchandise. You can’t just list an opulent blanket, bed or handbag for sale; you have to take a beautiful photo then write text that romanticizes the item and explains why it’s worth so much money. You delve into the background of where and how it was made and talk about the special, precise details. The goal is to connect the customer to the product, so when they see a truffle selling for $3 or an $8 candy bar, there’s an explanation and reason. 

And I’m constantly channeling brands like the legendary Parisian purveyor Hermès. Even their packaging is part of the ultimate luxury experience. People collect those beautiful orange boxes and line them up in their closets! I hope it’s the same thing with our Vosges boxes; we put as much effort into designing these gorgeous, limited-edition boxes as we do with the chocolate itself.

I also modeled Vosges’ standalone shops after high-end fashion boutiques. The stores aren’t just blank spaces for buying chocolate, but lush environs that are meant to be as decadent and experiential as the chocolates themselves. The walls are bathed in deep purple and crystal chandeliers hang from the ceilings. Ornate, velvet-covered chairs invite customers to relax with a wine and chocolate tasting flight. 

In 2012, you launched a more accessibly priced brand, Wild Ophelia. Why the move into mass market, and why the different brand?
I believe that if you’re not evolving, you’re dying. Today, we’re in a world of flash sales, outlet deals and cheap-chic collaborations — but I never want to put the Vosges name on a lesser product lest it hurt the brand’s identity. At the same time, there is a strong market for products at a lower (but still moderate) price point. So I envisioned Wild Ophelia as the “younger sister” brand of Vosges — if Vosges is couture, Wild Ophelia is ready to wear. Unlike Vosges, Wild Ophelia bars are sold at places like Target and Walgreens. And without the cost of high-end boutiques, lush packaging and catalogs and exotic ingredients, I can charge less. And the larger market gives us additional economies of scale. For us, it’s win-win. We don’t dilute the Vosges brand but can still expand into this big market. 

A lot of people want to start a food business — and especially a chocolate company! What’s your advice to them?
Create partnerships to expose people to your product — especially outside of the normal food world collaborations that are almost expected. We’ve partnered with everyone from makeup guru Bobbi Brown and Victoria’s Secret to clothing and handbag designers. Our attitude is to be open. As I like to say, “With what will chocolate not marry? Very little!”

Rachel Hofstetter is the author of “Cooking Up a Business” (Penguin, 2013) where you can also read more about Katrina’s story. Rachel was so inspired by the entrepreneurs she wrote about that she left her food editor career to launch guesterly, a software platform that enables anyone to create a playbill for life’s special events. Today, you can find her sharing guesterly with the world by day — and recipe testing at night!

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