Laid-off Calgary energy worker steers in sweet, ‘inspiring’ direction with chocolate business
Easter is always a busy time when you’re in the chocolate business and it’s ramping up to be another sweet season for a Calgary woman enjoying her unexpected detour into the field.
Eva Choi and her husband Dallas Southcott run The Chocolate Lab, a company that creates and sells award-winning designer chocolates.
It all started after a tough break four years ago.
“I was an oil and gas engineer, working for a large corporation, and I got laid off,” Choi said. “It’s a painful kind of thing to endure and overcome.”
Finding herself facing the dilemma so many other Alberta energy workers have been forced to deal with in recent years, Choi tried to make the most of it.
“When one door closes, another door opens,” she said.
“And it just so happened that Dallas was going to culinary school in chocolate.”
The couple put all their savings and a lot of long days into starting the business.
“At the very beginning it was just Eva and I,” Southcott said. “Whatever we were doing seemed to catch the imagination of people and we got really busy really quickly. We’ve grown from two people to 15.”
Staff members are now filling online orders for customers all over North America.
“We’ve got them from Florida to California,” Southcott said. “Up into the Northwest Territories.”
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Their eye-catching specialty chocolates are hand-painted, using fully edible pigmented cocoa butter.
“Every year we enter the international chocolate awards,” Choi said. “We’ve won 14 awards.”
The employees who create the chocolates are grateful for the opportunity that wouldn’t have existed if Choi hadn’t been laid off from her job in the oil patch.
“It’s hard not to get down on yourself after something like that happens,” Tanya Armes said. “But they were like, okay we’re going to do this awesome thing and it worked out.
“It’s quite an inspiring story!”
It’s leading to joking comparisons with another chocolate story.
“I do get called Willy Wonka often,” Southcott said with a laugh. “And we do get called The Wonkas.”
With the couple now extra busy in their chocolate factory, they also make sure to put aside some sweet Easter surprises for their three young sons.
“I think they’ll probably get a little bunny,” Choi said.
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