Profile: Anne Shaeffer mixes passion for art, chocolate
For Anne Shaeffer, her chocolate business represents the perfect storm.
“My love for chocolate, my love for art and my love for starting a business — I took all these passions of mine and merged them into one,” she said.
“Chocolate is so rock-star delicious, I wanted to be part of it.”
Shaeffer graduated from UIC in 2003 with a degree in finance and entrepreneurial studies. She worked for Morgan Stanley and the Bank of Montreal.
Then her younger sister died.
“It was really rough,” she said. “It was a wake-up call for me, that life is short.
“I realized I didn’t want to be a banker. In order to be more successful I had to be more cutthroat. It wasn’t for me — I’m very social, creative.”
She started a tech company with a friend, but there wasn’t enough start-up capital. “I went back to finance, and remembered why I left.”
Turning to chocolate, Shaeffer checked out products at Whole Foods and decided to aim for truffle-quality chocolate.
She studied at a French pastry school in Chicago, learning about flavor combinations and profiles.
Then, three years ago, she founded Sulpice Chocolat in Barrington.
On its website, the company claims to produce “the world’s first designer, painted chocolate bars.” The chocolate comes in either a spatter pattern or marbleized.
“One thing you notice is that chocolate can be sickeningly sweet at times,” Shaeffer said. “Ours has a nice tastiness, it’s a nice smooth chocolate bar.”
Her husband, Bill, a UIUC grad and former financial trader, joined her in the business.
“There’s not much separation between the business and our personal lives,” she said. “We don’t like to be apart.”
At first both were doing all the work together.
“Then we realized there were too many hands,” she said. “Now I do more of the creative work and talking with sales reps and developing the flavors.
“He does the business side, financing and bookkeeping, talking with suppliers, doing all the invoicing.
“I tend to be emotional; he keeps me on an even keel.”
The couple has invested about $100,000 in the business, borrowing from family and friends.
“We’re trying to extend our burn rate, making sure we’re breaking a little more than even each month,” Shaeffer said.
It was tough going at first.
“Sometimes we were making chocolate until four in the morning,” she said.
Sulpice Chocolat offers 10 choices.
In dark chocolate there’s Epice, with cinnamon, chipotle and cayenne pepper; Gingembre, with ginger and macadamia nut; Pistache, with pistachio and cardamom; Menthe, with mint; and Chocolate Noir.
In milk chocolate there’s Amande, with salt and almonds; Noisette, with caramelized hazelnut; Chai, with chai tea; Moka, with espresso; and Au-lait.
Shaeffer won the $5,000 Stand Out & Win contest sponsored by PopSugar, a women’s lifestyle Internet destination, for her answer to the question, “What am I doing to go after my dream?”
Sulpice Chocolat was also selected as official chocolatier of the Grammy Awards last year.
Shaeffer grew up in Naperville and went to high school in Aurora.
Even while studying business at UIC, she continued to develop her artistic side, training with master muralist Diosdado Mondero.
Shaeffer and her husband are living with his parents in Barrington, although they’re planning to eventually move to Chicago’s West Loop.
“We want to put all our money into the business,” she explained.
The business name pays homage to Sulpice Debauve (1757-1836), the first master chocolatier, who was in the court of Marie Antoinette.
“She wouldn’t take medicine, so he hid it in her chocolates,” Shaeffer said.