This is a bit of an unconventional “Real Chef Talk” series as our guest and I spoke in Spanish during the entire interview. I figured most of you wouldn’t have been able to enjoy it, so I just translated what we chatted about! Either way, enjoy what this business grad turned chocolatier has created for us to lust over! If you’re interested in hearing any of the convo in Spanish, leave a comment and I’ll upload an excerpt! B-
We all know that Latinos have global influence and that our purchasing power increases exponentially each fiscal year. It’s great to see a Latin based company start, develop grow and offer the general public a great service or product. It’s no different than seeing our fave Latin celeb being recognized (refer to Ricky Martin on Oprah in late 2010).
I was recently introduced to a small family-owned business that does nothing but make chocolate all day, every day. And, they’re Latino! Born in Venezuela, Stefano Zullian studied business in the U.S. and wanted to start his own company. He saw a trend in chocolate truffles back home and started doing research. Though the name of the brand could be suggestive of that, you’d have to talk to this husband/wife/sister team to fully understand how their Latin roots have influenced their passion behind starting a thriving gourmet chocolate boutique standing in Houston, TX.
Bren: How did you get into making these beautiful chocolate pieces?
Araya: While I was business school, I got hip to a booming chocolate market back in Venezuela which intrigued me. I had no knowledge of the business so I traveled to Venezuela and consulted with a chef friend of mine. She taught us the ins and outs of making chocolate. We got really excited after learning all these wonderful things about cacao and turning it into unforgettable truffles. And, Venezuela has one of the world’s best cacao. So, we use 70% Venezuelan cacao in our truffles and wanted to infuse healthy ingredients and different flavors into our creations. We use honey instead of sugar and hand paint some of the selections. It’s definitely a craft.
Bren: Where did you get the name Araya?
Araya: Araya is a salt flour from Venezuela and a village where salt mines are cultivated. Our concept was always to contrast something sweet with something salty so as to preserve the integrity of natural cacao which is really not sweet at all. And, we chose a name that we thought would be easy for anyone to pronounce.
Bren: How do you feel your Latin roots inspired your passion to open a chocolate boutique in the U.S.?
Araya: As you know, Latinos are passionate people, generally speaking. We like to treat everything and those around us with a lot of love. Chocolate is one of things that is so personal and requires a lot of attention when making. It was natural to want to make something that makes people feel good and warm.
Bren: How was the Latino community responded to a fine chocolatier?
Araya: It’s actually been truly amazing. Houston is a very diverse city so we see a lot of different people coming in the boutique and raving about our treats. It’s been much better than we ever expected. But, when Latinos come in, they’re also so orgulloso (proud) and like to ask questions. It’s also nice to see that us come in with friends. They never come alone; it’s always with a friend they want to introduce Araya to. The best experience has been with a lady from the Chamber of Commerce. She came in and said “this is the best gift for the person that already has everything.” No one had ever put it that way but it made sense and still makes us smile.
Bren: Any thoughts on opening other boutiques:
Araya: Yes! Our next city would be Atlanta. We went to school there and just love it. But, we really want to focus on building and developing this store first. We want it to be a mainstay and long-lasting. Araya is meant to be a memorable brand and we love servicing our customers.
Bren: So, how many flavors and what’s your best seller?
Araya: We started with 15 and we now have 30. Ironically, our pink salt is our number 1 seller. We don’t have pink salt in Venezuela so it’s interesting. Strawberry balsamic is the second best seller. I think it’s the aesthetic of the red heart. But, at the end of the day, they’re all good and there’s something for everyone!
ARAYA ARTISAN CHOCOLATES
Where to buy: www.arayachocolate.com
What to buy: I recommend the cappuccino, chai, cherry bourbon and pink salt truffles.
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* all photos courtesy of Araya