Chocolate biz booming

Julian Helman has come a long way from pretending to be his chocolate company's sales department on the phone, back when he was just a one-man operation. And that was only three years ago.

In just a few short years, Kelowna-based Karat Chocolate has grown from Helman's small passion project to employing eight people, and on Monday, Helman opened up his downtown Kelowna storefront location.

“Slowly but surely, I started to get asked about selling at different wineries and wholesale accounts, and I kind of clued in after that and figured I might be able to make a viable business out of it,” Helman said from Karat's kitchen space on High Road.

He used the $1,200 he made over the 2015 Christmas season selling chocolates to friends and co-workers at Quail's Gate Winery as seed money to get the business up and running.

“It's been a lot of work, but three years later we're still here, and things are happening so I guess we're doing something right,” Helman said.

And people have been taking notice. Karat has won multiple medals at the International Chocolate Awards, boosting the company's online sales from all over the world.

But Helman didn't just stumble into his success. The 36-year-old received his culinary red seal in his hometown of Saskatoon after high school, before completing his formal culinary and pastry training at the Canadian Culinary Institute of Canada in Prince Edward Island. From there, he honed his skills at the French Pastry School in Chicago, before pursuing his passion overseas, in Europe and at several Michelin Star restaurants in Hong Kong.

He eventually found his way back to Canada, settling in the Okanagan, where he worked in the kitchens of several wineries. Karat began as a side project while he was working at Quail's Gate, but today, Karat is the only thing on his plate, besides his three-month-old daughter of course.

While Karat has been primarily a chocolate company, Helman is looking to expand their offerings with the new downtown storefront, offering a variety of pastries and tarts while serving Kelowna's own Canoe Coffee. But there will still be plenty of chocolate.

“I always wanted to just have that classic place where you want to go have a croissant and you feel comfortable. I never really wanted to be cutting-edge or the new or the 'flash in the pan,'” Helman said.

“You can expect very classic with little modern twists.”

While Karat's downtown store, located just south of Bernard Avenue on Ellis Street, had its soft opening Monday, the store's official grand opening is Friday.

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