The owners of Peterbrooke Chocolatier in St. Augustine, Fla. - the brand’s most recent shop to open - are living proof that dreams can come true and hard work definitely pays off.
“As an aspiring entrepreneur, it’s always been a dream of mine to open a lucrative chocolate and candy business,” said Joopchang Chavalit, Peterbrooke St. Augustine Franchisee.
Piya and Joopjang Chavalit took rather circuitous route to “The Ancient City” of St. Augustine but they say they wouldn’t trade it for the world. Originally from Thailand they moved to the Chicago area separately more than 40 years ago as kids. Their mothers, both nurses, knew the U.S. offered jobs and also believed if their children had an American education, they would have better opportunities. As teenagers, friends introduced them because, according to Joopjang, the Thai community in Chicago was close-knit.
A University of Illinois graduate, Piya and had a very successful business career working for large corporations, most recently as senior manager of operations for the Midwest as well as Florida, North Carolina and Georgia. Joopjang stayed home to raise their twin sons and worked in retail, while cultivating an affinity for being in the kitchen with a special knack for making chocolate.
As the twins grew older and more independent, Joopjang accompanied Piya on trips to the South whenever possible. They were both really attracted to warmer climates.
Just as the couple began thinking about downsizing, Piya was offered a transfer to St. Augustine. Although they always imagined they’d ultimately leave Chicago and return to Thailand, after making regular visits a couple times each year, they realized that Bangkok’s crowded, expensive lifestyle wasn’t for them. Piya and Joopjang wanted a warmer spot and a slower pace. They decided to make the life leap to Florida.
That was Halloween 2016 and they’ve never looked back.
Quickly after relocating, Joopjang felt the call to put her retail and independent spirit to work again. She attended a franchise expo in nearby Jacksonville and, an entrepreneur at heart, was struck by the opportunity, support and of course, the candy business of Peterbrooke Chocolatier. The high-end chocolate shop’s reputation throughout Florida meshed perfectly with Joopjang’s creativity and affinity for chocolate.
In Spring 2018, barely a year after relocating to St. Augustine, the couple jumped into franchising with both feet. They found a perfect retail location in Cobblestone Village, Piya channeled his business expertise to manage all the due diligence, the corporate franchise team was on board, and the franchise agreement and real estate details were finalized. The lease agreement and space build-out was a fast-moving process but “not fast enough” for Piya, a person anxious to bring business results.
The shop in St. Augustine opened a week before Christmas 2018 and the Chavalits were off and running. With Valentine’s Day, Easter and Mother’s Day quickly following after the grand opening, the new shop is already developing regular and devoted customers.
“We’re still building up business,” said Piya, “but the Peterbrooke brand was totally worth buying for the name and its reputation. It’s a really well-known, respected name in the area and we love the freedom to get creative and differentiate the brand.”
“Customers come in and say, ‘I’m so glad you’re here,’” Joopjang agreed.
She, especially, has taken the opportunity to harness her creativity. Recently, she experimented with different molds she picked up in Thailand, including a “sushi chip” made from chocolate. Resembling the popular California roll sushi delicacy, Joopjang crafted one using chocolate and they flew off the shop’s shelves! She also created “petit fors” from rice krispie treats in bite-sized pieces, dipped in chocolate, and garnished with a flower leaf – they sold within an hour!
Today, both Piya and Joopjang have poured themselves into the brand and are at the shop full time, seven days a week.
“We know we have to be 100% involved for our business to succeed and it’s largely about building relationships with clients,” Piya said. “The other day, we actually had clients drive three miles out of their way after a birthday lunch to have a gelato here at Peterbrooke. Of course, we recognized them – we knew who they were and they knew us.”
For more information about becoming a Peterbrooke Chocolatier franchisee and experiencing a similarly positive lifestyle as the Chavalit’s enjoy, please visit peterbrookefranchising.com. Today the brand has more than 20 locations throughout the Southeast, including Florida, Alabama and Georgia and focuses on high-quality, delicious and beautiful chocolate creations that are perfect for personal or corporate gifts, custom baskets, private parties, and more. Peterbrooke franchise owner candidates are required to have a minimum of $75,000 in liquid assets and a minimum net worth of $300,000.