The chocolate flows in Jen Libbra’s new home for The Chocolate Affair, which has left its bed-and-breakfast roots to take root on Broadway in Highland.
For nearly 10 years, Libbra has operated the Tibbetts House bed and breakfast with in-house chocolate shop, a combination that people really enjoyed.
But in recent years, Libbra decided to downsize in order to focus entirely on the chocolate aspect of the business. She has sold the Tibbetts House to Mindy and Brett Castro and reports that eventually it may reopen as a bed and breakfast with an in-house bookstore.
In the meantime, The Chocolate Affair has reopened in its new space as a chocolate and sweets shop with gifts and other vendors, just in time to celebrate its 10th anniversary this fall. Beside the margarita bark, peanut-butter-and-chocolate-covered Oreos, caramel and chocolate pretzel rods, homemade ice cream, cocoa almonds, amaretto chocolate pecans and more, shoppers will find bath and body products from Mermaids of Nantucket, earth and stone pottery, clothing, jewelry, candles, handmade baskets, greeting cards, children’s items and more.
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Q: Why move from the Tibbetts House to downtown Highland?
A: “We have a chance to expand the chocolate side. This gives me a bigger space for the chocolate and for more vendors — we have six to eight vendors right now, all locally made products sold on consignment. ... I will get more foot traffic, and the parking is much better. It’s a golden ticket in Highland to have a parking lot.”
Q: How did you get into the chocolate business?
A: “I have a restaurant (management) degree, and I was working in kitchens making desserts in Columbia, Mo. Here, I worked at Monarch restaurants (in St. Louis) and J. Buck’s in Fairview Heights. ... I bought (the Tibbetts House) as an existing business, and they were already into the chocolate. I continued it because chocolate has a good shelf life, and I could be creative enough to have a good variety.”
Q: How do you make the candy?
A: “I buy the chocolate from Guittard on the West Coast. They primarily make chocolate to sell to people who make candy... and then I make all kinds of things. The turtles are very popular; other specialties would be our homemade marshmallows, caramels and the chocolate-dipped potato chips.”
Q: What’s popular in candy these days?
A: “The salty-sweet combinations like, the potato chips or sea salt, they’re really popular. There’s the chocolate-covered bacon... We use a sugar-free chocolate as well with a sugar substitute. There is still some natural sugar in there, but it’s something diabetics will shop for. A lot of our candy are seasonal things: We’re doing the banana split bark, baseballs, motorcycles, flip flops (for summer).”
Q: What’s the busiest time of year for you?
A: “Christmas is the busiest season, but Valentine’s Day is the busiest single day. ... We do a lot of chocolate-covered strawberries.”
Q: What are your plans for The Chocolate Affair’s future?
A: “We are looking to stay here, to expand the chocolate and gifts selection. We will be able to offer a space for more parties. ... We do a ‘Death By Chocolate’ party where you get seven samples, chocolate fondue, cake, etc. We’d like to be able to offer the space for rental as well, for bridal showers and such.”
Q: What advice do you have for people who may be thinking of starting their own business?
A: “Trust your instincts and make the business your own. You can listen to advice, but stay true to yourself and your vision, and try to stay positive.”