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October 22, 2008 > Career Council: Cool Jobs in the Tri-City Area: Chocolatiers in Newark

Career Council: Cool Jobs in the Tri-City Area: Chocolatiers in Newark

By Anne Chan, PhD

I was expecting to enter a crazy, noisy Willy Wonka factory of chocolate waterfalls and candy bouncing off the walls. To my surprise, the inside of Landru Chocolates(tm) in Newark, CA was peaceful, clean and orderly - there was almost a calm meditative feel about it, without a single Oompa-Loompa in sight.

More surprises awaited me as I talked with Oscar and Andrew Baile, the father-son team and founders of Landru Chocolates(tm). Prior to working with the sweet stuff, Oscar worked in Venezuela as a civil engineer designing huge hydroelectric plants. You may not make an immediate connection between chocolates and power plants, but Oscar notes that his engineering expertise comes in handy for improving and refining his truffle manufacturing process. Oscar's truffles look like works of art, but there's plenty of scientific and engineering precision that goes into making them.

Unlike Godiva or Hershey's that is marketed to the whole nation, Landru Chocolates(tm)'s niche is uniquely local. One sign of their commitment to local tastes is their use of local products like chocolates from Guittard Chocolate Co. in Burlingame, Ghirardelli Chocolate Co. in San Leandro, coffee beans from Peerless Coffee and Tea in Oakland and coffee beans from Paddy's Coffee House in Union City. Landru is also nimbler than their larger truffle counterparts - they will evolve and develop flavors based on customer feedback and they can even custom-make truffle platters and party favors for events such as weddings, birthday celebrations, and company parties.

The road to sweet gooey perfection began as a hobby. Oscar learned the chocolate business from another Venezuelan chocolatier and began chocolate making for fun, handing out samples to lucky relatives and friends.

At the time, Oscar never dreamed he would become a chocolatier. However, when he completed his stint in Venezuela, Oscar was faced with an interesting dilemma, "Should I buy a Mercedes or start a business?" At the same time, Delanie, his wife, asked, "When are you going to do this as a serious business?" Inspired by his chocolate-loving wife who is now the unofficial Chief Taster for the company, Oscar launched Landru Chocolates(tm) in 2004. Part of his motivation for starting his own company was to create a tangible business that he could pass on to his son, Andrew. The family focus of the company is inherent even in its name and logo - "Landru" is the combination of his wife's and son's name. The company logo, featuring a dancing couple, pays homage to Oscar's family name "Baile" which is Spanish for dancing.

Oscar started his business with about $100,000 in start-up money. Surprisingly, Oscar reports that he did not overthink or overplan when starting his business. Said his son Andrew: "We just jumped into the water." Oscar notes that planning too much can kill a business idea. He did not want end up like friends who planned their businesses for up to 10 years but never actually launched them. Notes Andrew: "If you plan it out too much, you might become too fearful and your enthusiasm goes away. You might miss out the opportunity for yourself." However, Oscar did prepare for his new venture by taking chocolate and confectionery technology courses at Richardson Researches at UC Davis and chocolate-making and showpiece courses at the Notter School of Pastry Arts in Florida. This know-how was passed on to Andrew who is also an engineer. Although these courses gave them some technical knowledge, Oscar notes that "school doesn't teach you everything" and that he and Andrew had to develop as well as improve many details of their chocolate manufacturing procedures.

With any business, there are downsides. At times, both have had to fill orders for 48 hours without sleeping. Oscar explained that their chocolate-dipped strawberries cannot be made more than a day in advance and there have been times when he and Andrew burned the midnight oil to complete an order on time. However, going without sleep does not appear to faze them. Said Oscar matter-of-factly, "It's not uncommon for engineers not to sleep."

Other challenges they have faced have been marketing their product and educating the public about the uniqueness of their products. It may surprise you to know that making chocolates is actually a tiny portion of the business. Says Oscar: "Cooking is just a very small part of the business. It's more about the process and the organization. This gives value to the business and consistency in product quality."

At the same time, both have a philosophically positive attitude toward making mistakes in their business. They freely talk about the hundreds of pounds of chocolate and fillings they have ruined on the rocky road to achieving sweet success in their business. Notes Oscar: "We learn from mistakes. If you don't want to make mistakes, I don't think you can go into this business. Mistakes are actually good lessons. As engineers, we were trained not to make mistakes - our mindset is that way. But in my own business, I learn from all my mistakes. When a mistake comes, we fully learn from that." Agrees Andrew: "Sometimes you have a bad streak and you just have to work through it."

Ruined chocolate and the occasional sleep deprivation aside, both Oscar and Andrew note that there are many benefits to being chocolatiers (aside from the obvious advantage of being surrounded by a sumptuous buffet of all-you-can-eat truffles). Says Oscar: "We like doing it. It's like a passion. Seeing people happy when they eat our chocolates, that's good enough for us." Oscar also enjoys the flexibility of the hours, solving the ongoing challenges of refining their manufacturing process, and developing new flavors. Oscar puts it simply, "It's never boring." Echoes Andrew, "I like the creative aspect of it, not just the way they look, but playing around with the way they taste, either you can make it taste different and better, or change it around and create something new that no one has tasted before."

Working as a father-son team also has its benefits. For all you fathers and mothers out there who want to start a family business, it might be inspiring to hear Andrew's reactions to helping his Dad: "Best thing about working with my Dad is we are creating a product we can sell. Seeing how it started, like creating a company logo, it's been an interesting process." For others who dream about starting their own business, Oscar has the following advice: "If you do it in stages, you will reach your final goal. But don't reinvent everything -- buy a business if possible, don't start from scratch."

Oscar is committed to seeing Landru Chocolates(tm) grow in different directions. Both Oscar and Andrew note the importance of being committed to the business: "Perseverance and commitment are important if you really want to be successful." Adds Oscar: "I never did a project that I didn't complete. What I start, I have to finish. If you start but don't finish, it will always be a mystery what happened."

For now, Andrew's and Oscar's story of chocolates features an exquisite line-up of gourmet chocolates and confections in a variety of unique flavors, such as the distinctively local Paddy's coffee truffle and the English Tea truffle (both of which are Andrew's favorites). If you'd like a taste of high-end chocolates with a definite local twist, check out http://www.landruchocolates.com/ or call 510-258-9645.

Anne Chan is a career counselor and licensed psychotherapist in Union City. She specializes in helping people find maximum satisfaction in their careers and relationships. She can be reached at achan@midlabs.com or 510-744-1781. If you or someone you know has a cool, unique, and interesting job in the greater Tri-City area (Fremont, Newark, Union City, Milpitas, Hayward area and Sunol), please contact her.

(c) Anne Chan, 2008.

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