Dr. Chocolate’s Chocolate Chateau
This is the debut of Unsolicited Advice, a new feature on Heavy Table. Unsolicited Advice columns are brief, focused pieces of constructive criticism from a diner’s or customer’s perspective.
When Dr. Chocolate’s Chocolate Chateau popped onto our radar a number of months ago, it seemed like a mirage: A towering, multi-story temple of chocolate, with educational, retail, event, and other miscellaneous spaces all located in a stately mansion on Selby Ave. in St. Paul.
Open since February, the Chateau is marked by a meek little sign out front. An enterprise this ambitiously wild calls for some combination of neon and glass filled with pumping liquid cocoa, or the visual equivalent. Or, at least, something carved, wooden, and Wonka-looking. A workaday welcome mat pressed into service as a welcome sign adds to the visual letdown of a visit to the Chateau. Where’s the chocolate fairyland we were promised?
SUGGESTION #1: Underpromise, Over-Deliver
The Facebook page for Dr. Chocolate’s Chocolate Chateau contains the following promise: “Dr. Chocolate’s Chocolate Chateau will be a four-floor chocolate shop, eating establishment, exhibition hall, gift store and event center dedicated to the world’s favorite flavor. Soon you will be able to buy the finest gourmet chocolates, brush up on your history in The Story of Chocolate, our 2000 sq ft interpretive center, and peruse the Doctor’s Chocolate Hall of Fame.”
But the actual store delivers this: a chocolate store and gift shop that wouldn’t be out of place at an upscale mall or airport.
Marketing hype becomes destructive when it sets down expectations that aren’t met. In the case of Dr. Chocolate’s, the marketing strongly suggests a Wonka-like chocolate fairyland, while the shop itself delivers… well, nothing particularly special (see below).
It can be argued that all the wonderful things that have been promised for months are around the corner, but in the world of retail and restaurants, nothing matters but the actual execution. And in the meantime, the brand is associated with a run-of-the-mill chocolate shop in an interesting building, not a game-changing fantasy experience. So, after making a strategic improvement or two (see below), relaunch with what you’ve got: a chocolate shop in a nice house in St. Paul. Build from there. Promise nothing you can’t immediately deliver.
SUGGESTION #2: Make Something
When we walked into the Chateau, we saw lots of mass-produced chocolate treats and doodads imported from all over the world, but few traces of Minnesota and nothing that was made by the shopkeepers’ own hands. Our first question to the clerk was: “Do you guys make the chocolates?” and what followed was a pair of conflicting explanations: “No, not yet, we’re waiting for a kitchen” and “the owner’s approach is to gather the best of the best from all over the world.”
This is absurd. Dr. Chocolate doesn’t make chocolate? He’s a purveyor of other people’s chocolate, shipped in via UPS? A customer coming to Dr. Chocolate’s should be able to experience something special, something different, something flamboyant, and something house-made. Otherwise, seriously, why all the hype? Why come back? Why come at all?
IN SUMMARY: The idea has promise — all that needs to happen is for the exuberant imagination that created the name and concept to manifest itself in the physical space and / or in something house-made that the public can taste and enjoy. And when either happens, we’ll be the first in line to see what chocolate masterpiece Dr. Chocolate hath wrought.
Dr. Chocolate’s Chocolate Chateau, 579 Selby Ave, St. Paul; 651.379.3676