The word “chocolatier” evokes a character and a lifestyle that almost anyone who has read Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” might envy, and Kelly Wassell lives that dream every day as owner of Kelly Wassell Chocolates and Confections in Little Rock, which provides uncommon treats one might not find at the grocery store.

 

“Chocolates or confections that someone gets from me are made with care, quality ingredients and, sometimes, surprising flavors,” she said. “Spending money on treats or gifts is tough these days; it should be a special experience when you do.”

 

She added that freshness and quality are two priorities evident in every batch of sweets.

 

“They are made with an eye for beauty when opening the box, then the texture and flavor for maximum enjoyment,” she said. “By being local, I have been able to work with my customers for bespoke orders, making unique chocolates that match their party or corporate themes to give that extra special touch to an event.”

 

 

A long-time chocolate aficionado, time spent in Europe coupled with the wide-ranging changes wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic inspired Wassell to take the leap of starting her own chocolate business.

 

“I have always loved chocolate and was known for the chocolate clusters I would make at Christmas for presents,” she said. “However, after living in Switzerland and eating five years’ worth of beautifully amazing chocolates and European candies, I knew I would like to learn more.”

 

When the pandemic presented the opportunity to pick up a new hobby during quarantine, Wassell completed the Ecole Chocolat Professional Chocolatier Program, where she learned the fundamentals of making artisan bonbons by hand.

 

“Friends and family loved them, and when others asked if they could buy them from me, I decided I might have hit on something,” she said, “so I retired from my long-term corporate job and moved back to Little Rock, my hometown, to work with chocolate and sugar full time.”

 

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In June 2022, she made her first official sale.

 

“After being out of the Natural State for 18 years, picking up and coming home has been a wonderful, welcoming experience,”  she said. “We have not only a beautiful city but lovely, friendly people, and I look forward to getting to know more of them.”

 

She said changing careers to become a new face in the food industry—especially one offering something of a rarity in the local market—occasionally requires advisors who can help her navigate the business.

 

“Luckily, I have found some global chocolate chefs who have come to be my mentors in this endeavor,” she said. “There is a beautifully generous online chocolatier community around the world called the Chocy Chat Chew that acts as my remote teammates, allowing me to bounce ideas, struggles and successes with [them] weekly.”

 

She added that learning to take chances and say “yes” to opportunities can bring more joy than anxiety. 

 

“So much of what I am doing is new for me that my instinct is to worry about how something can go wrong,” she said. “When approached by local partners and opportunities, I am learning to first say, ‘Maybe. Let me figure out how to make this happen.’ By doing that, I have met some fabulous folks in the exciting food and retail space of central Arkansas.” 

 

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Wassell advised burgeoning entrepreneurs not only to take the chance at starting their own businesses but also to learn as much as possible from people, programs and other sources of information. There is much more to operating a small business than just making or selling a product, she added.

 

“There are great resources like the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center to help you navigate the regulations and requirements you need to follow, but most of all, talk to everyone,” she said. “Help them fall in love with you and your passion for what you do.”

 

While her offerings and flavors change over time, she is known for bonbons, which are decorated chocolates with ganache, caramel, nut gianduja or fruit fillings, her rich chewy caramels, which come “naked” or dipped in tempered chocolate, and one of her favorites, pâte de fruits, French-inspired fruit gels.

 

“I am interested in producing all sorts of confections that you won’t find in a local market, and occasionally, I offer fun treats like Scottish tablet or Italian nougat,” she said. “I am always looking for new treats during my travels and follow international chefs for inspiration for new creations to try.”

 

While some flavors for her collections, such as the gingerbread-dipped caramels for Christmas, are based on holidays, others, such as the “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” boxes she made for the Studio Theatre in Little Rock or the Disney Princess Collection, are based on themes. 

 

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“This allows for creativity not only for the colors and decorations, but for the flavors,” she said, adding that Dahl’s Veruca Salt and Violet Beauregarde feature salted caramel and blueberry caramel ganache, respectively, and the Snow White features apple pie. “However, sometimes, you just can’t beat a beautiful salted caramel in dark chocolate or a smooth milk chocolate ganache.”

 

She said her customers from all across Arkansas often purchase her treats as gifts, and she feels fortunate that the weather is cool enough to ship her goods during the major chocolate-giving season from November to March.

 

“Some of my customers appreciate unexpected and unusual flavors, while others appreciate the richness and quality of the chocolate,” she said. “There have been multiple returning buyers who tell me that they don’t really like chocolate but tried some of mine and are now hooked on what I make. The other fun comment I have gotten multiple times is I have ‘ruined’ them for any other, mass-made chocolates.”

 

While she is officially the sole employee of the business, her family and friends pitch in during the busy holiday months by labeling and folding boxes or helping out during busy market days.

 

“It may be my name on the label, but I couldn’t do it alone,” she said. “Being in Little Rock with a community and network of supporters helps keep me going.”

 

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She said people like buying from people and love buying from people they know, which helps keep small businesses like hers alive.

 

“I was asked once what I loved about what I do. Without hesitation, it was the people,” she said. “I get to know the people that follow and comment on my socials, then introduce themselves at the markets or pop-ups.”

 

She said the best small businesses learn about their customers. For her, that means remembering a customer who asked if she would ever make a box with just dark chocolate ganache and calling the customer when she has extras of the flavor.

 

The most gratifying part of her business, Wassell said, is meeting people who recognize her name, telling her they were gifted a box of her chocolates and commenting on the experience.

 

“It would be easy to open a box, eat the treats and move on,” she said, “but to remember an unusual name and to remember what they liked about them means I am on to something.”

 

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The cottage business offers pickup at Mrs. Polka Dot in Little Rock and occasionally attends pop-ups and market days. As a home-based entrepreneur, Wassell said she is planning how to handle her continued growth and hopes to eventually have a facility to produce confections year-round. She also hopes to provide additional hands-on chocolate-making classes.

 

“What’s more fun than what I get to do?” she said. “I would love to share that with more people.”

 

Learn more at kellywassellchocolates.com.

 

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