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How Sweet It Is
Zoe’s Chocolate Co. goes primetime on CNBC’s “The Profit” for a needed business boost.
by Ellen Ternes and photos by Turner Photography Studio
Zoe’s Chocolate Co. in Waynesboro, Pa., is a millennial success story. The three young Tsoukatos siblings — Zoe, Pantelis, and Petros — left their jobs in Washington, D.C., to come home and start a new business, and carry on their family’s century-long tradition of making great chocolate. Zoe’s Chocolates has since opened stores in Waynesboro and Frederick, and developed trendy new flavors that have earned rave reviews from the likes of Martha Stewart and Anthony Bourdain. The shop’s goodies have even shown up at the Emmys and Grammy Awards, and can be found on the shelves of classy food stores around the country.
But after 10 years of moving up and out from the Main Street Waynesboro headquarters, Zoe’s Chocolate Co. hit a plateau. It wasn’t growing at the rate the Tsoukatos siblings had hoped it would. Online sales were lagging, and flavor variety wasn’t increasing quickly enough for an industry that thrives on new products. The worry of expanding the business and earnings had become a reality.
And so, the Tsoukatos family looked to a millennial solution — a reality television show. They threw Zoe’s name into the hat for CNBC’s “The Profit,” hoping they would be picked for the show’s star — business savior Marcus Lemonis — to come to Waynesboro and help them move into the next stage of success.
“We wanted to take the business to another level. Marcus is a successful and smart entrepreneur. He has bold ideas and pushes people to step outside of their comfort zone. It’s good to have someone who is familiar with business give you a fresh outlook and some ideas to help the business grow,” says Zoe Tsoukatos. Months later, they got the news that Marcus would take on Zoe’s Chocolates.
For more than three months, in the spring of 2017, he and the video crew would be in and out, shooting footage, moving things around, and having some tough talks in the back of the shop. There was no way to know what would make it on the air for the world to see. That would be in the hands of Marcus and the program’s producers. “I don’t think anyone has an idea of exactly what to expect when you go into something like this, a reality show,” Zoe says.
Now in his fourth season with “The Profit,” Marcus goes around the country helping businesses out of bad spots. He gets to know them, rolls up his sleeves to do everything from sweeping to packing boxes, and he invests his own money to get them moving in the right direction. The trade-off is that Marcus becomes a partner.
Marcus obviously looks for businesses that have a good chance of making it, but he also likes a business that has a good story to tell, which was something that drew him to the Tsoukatos’ operation. Zoe’s Chocolates got started in 2007 when their dad, George, lost his long-time job as a master chocolatier for another local chocolate maker. Zoe and her brothers grew up with chocolate in their DNA. Their Greek immigrant grandparents sold chocolate from a handcart in Baltimore, then started their own candy shop in Waynesboro. The cocoa connection had never been broken, and the siblings weren’t going to let it happen now. They packed up and moved back to the borough — and with George as the master chocolatier, threw themselves into creating the next generation of chocolate.
The other thing that drew Marcus to Zoe’s was the chocolate. “I eat chocolate every single day, and this chocolate is spectacular. Unusual flavors, amazing texture. I’ve never tasted any chocolate like it,” he can be seen saying in the aired episode.
But great chocolate alone wasn’t going to be enough to help Zoe’s. Marcus saw early on they would have to come up with more products. The 18 choices they’d been turning out for a decade wouldn’t be enough to keep them afloat in today’s market. Why, for example, he asked, in the heart of Pennsylvania pretzel country, didn’t Zoe’s have chocolate-covered pretzels?
Marcus also told them Zoe’s would have to greatly expand its online business and pump up the process to handle it. To prove his point, Marcus launched a social media request to his fans, asking them to order Zoe’s Chocolates right then. As he hoped would happen, Zoe’s was overwhelmed with orders they couldn’t fill quickly.
Zoe’s also would have to update their shop in Waynesboro — both for space and appearance, Marcus remarked, as well as find new ways to increase their sales volume. To help them do that, he took Zoe, Pantelis, and Petros to Miami to meet with Norwegian Cruise Lines about producing custom chocolates for its 4,000-passenger cruise ships.
And they would need to tell their story. “People buy from people,” Marcus told them. In one of the most emotional scenes in the program, the family talks about telling the story of George losing his job and the kids coming home to keep the chocolate tradition going.
The Zoe’s Chocolate episode of “The Profit” aired on July 25. As with every episode, there’s a standard storyline that shows the good, the tension, the disagreements, and the success. The Tsoukatos family didn’t know what they would see. “We actually all watched it separately,” Zoe says. “However, we were texting the entire time, and we were all on a three-way call after the show aired. It was difficult to watch, but we were happy with the way it came out.”
“When Marcus first came in, you’re kind of nervous, you don’t know what to expect. It was a big surprise for the best,” Pantelis mentioned in a CNBC clip. “Marcus is a very genuine person,” Zoe says. “He cares about the businesses, about the people he works with. He’s always working. I think he values it when he sees people put in the same effort he does. He needs to believe in the people he invests in, so he wants them to prove themselves to him.”
Since the program aired, Zoe’s Chocolates has taken Marcus’ lessons to heart. The Waynesboro shop is totally redesigned, with a more open look and more efficient layout that can handle much larger online sales. There’s a new logo and a marketing brand that tells the family story. Norwegian Cruise Line has started ordering for at least one of its ships. Zoe’s may even have a new internet food star in Petros, who has uploaded several videos showing how to make chocolate soup and a chocolatini. “Things are moving a lot smoother now,” Petros said in a CNBC clip. “We’ve expanded, have more flavors, and it has given us an outlet into other retailers.”
“It is difficult to expand a business. And being in a small town, it’s even harder. Having the exposure has helped tremendously. It was tough — a challenging process — but he saw the potential, which gave us more energy to want to do great things,” concludes Zoe about Marcus’ mentoring. And yes, Zoe’s now has chocolate-covered pretzels.