Small Business Profile: Alexandra Clark, Owner of Bon Bon Bon - Detroit
Hi Alex! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I'm addicted to adventure and I really love chocolate. And my dog.
What is your background (i.e. education, previous jobs, experiences that led you to create)?
I worked my way through any chocolate shop that would take me and in-between, I would go to school. I was obsessed with an idea, with my medium and I needed to learn everything. I still want to know so much more. I went to French Pastry School of Chicago for a chocolate certificate, Michigan State for Hospitality Business & Food Science, Massey University, where I received my graduate diploma in Agricultural Commerce while I was researching cocoa/chocolate supply chains. Ecole Chocolat, and schoolcraft college where I studied under Master Pastry Chef Joe Decker. Still, Mimi Wheeler of Grocer's Daughter Chocolates remains one of the biggest influences on who I am as a chocolatier.
What led you to begin Bon Bon Bon?
A love for chocolate - and the fact that no one ever stopped me. I was 26 before anyone even mentioned to me that dedicating my life to chocolate might be "unconventional" or "not the 'best' choice". I came from a family where everyone was super creative and everyone had a medium, but I felt like I just oozed ideas and that was about it. Despite all of the most special occasions in my life being marked by chocolate from my grandpa (who was known to eat two king sized chocolate bars for lunch every day) it just didn't hit me as an artistic medium until I moved to Scandinavia when I was 19. I had an earth shattering moment outside of a chocolate shop and from then on, I've been struck by obsession. I fell in love the way really only a teenager can, and I still am.
What is your favorite part about working with chocolate?
My life revolves around the chocolate. Like a baker or a farmer, my life does not revolve around me, it revolves around something that I tend to. I like that, I really find peace in it. When the chocolate is in temper, I am unavailable. Not many professions allow you a meditative time like that.
What steps did you take to build your team, The Babes Babes Babes?
The hiring process here has generally been pretty brutal. The first employees were friends and then slowly I would pick up a customer or two, reach out on social media to find new leads, hire friends of other employees. It hasn't been easy to do but I have a group of 16 very diverse minds with experiences from all over the world and kind hearts that are open to the differences in each other and in our customers. The Babes Babes Babes hugely reflect who I want to be. It's a group of people I admire and want to work with so that I can learn to be more like them, each in their own way.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
Everywhere! But mostly Everyone. I really am inspired by people - especially their relationship to food. Not just to sweets but their relationship with other people through food. I love how culture impacts what we eat and how wee eat it! My favorite dinner table conversation I've ever had was with three people from three different places arguing the meaning of the word "dumpling". Sometimes it's tradition and technique and sometimes it's popular culture, inspiration hits all the time.
How do you decide on your flavors?
I wish I knew! Sometimes the process is super easy and sometimes it takes a ton of work. In the end, though, they do not make it to the cases unless they are 1. delicious and 2. accurate.
Do you have a favorite creation?
I don't have any all-time favorites but my current crush is part of our spring collection. It's called "Mesquite Smoke" and it's a mesquite flower caramel with Spanish paprika sunflower seed gianduja in milk chocolate. It's killer.
How do you connect with your customers and community?
Bon Bon Bon only sells Bons directly to customers - which means that our customers come over to our place all the time! It's hard not to connect! Especially when you are the chocolate maker in a town. We live and work in the most diverse zip code in the country - but chocolate is relatively universal so I like to think that everyone feels welcome here. This question is so hard to answer because our community is everything - it's where we live but also where we find inspiration, it's the village that raised us.
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
My employees. At first it was the chocolate but I never anticipated what would happen once I had employees. There is no better moment to me than when one of my employees gets a drivers license or buys a car. I'm always the first to ask for a ride!
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you face with Bon Bon Bon?
Business Puberty? Like, we're in this spot where we're too big to be small but to small to be legit. We stand on our own two feet but have kinda scrawny legs. I mean this mostly when it comes to traditional business dealings like banking, finance, credit, being taken seriously, etc.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
Oh, absolutely! I believe it's important for everyone to work together and help one another. The reason why women should support each other is the same reason why men should support each other and men should support women, and people should support people. It's part of a larger issue.
What creative women do you find inspiring?
Ronni Lundy just came by the shop - she is an incredible writer and such an inspiring connector of people. Her dedication to the crafter, the maker, the founder, the history the farmer and the culture of food is so inspiring. I feel the same about Hannah Milman, former Exec Arts & Crafts Editor for Martha Stewart Magazine for the exact same reason. These two are both wonderful and powerful with so much sincerity that it could stop an asshole in his tracks.
What have you learned from owning your business that you think can apply to any creative endeavor?
Owning a business is like going to school and getting paid for good grades. I think the most important thing that I have learned from my business, though, is confidence.
How do you manage your time?
I am so calendar dependent. If it's on my calendar, it's gonna happen. I work too much, but I love my job and my dog is the key to my sanity.
How do you deal with moments of self-doubt?
While I was training for an epic triathlon - a friend and mentor of mine told me that when I decided to quit, and that I would decide to quit, to just keep walking. Because, in a short while, I might change my mind and then I would find myself a half mile ahead of where I was, instead of on the ground half a mile back. Despite being advice for a race, it's the best business advice anyone has ever given me.
What tools or resources have been most helpful for you in creating/running your business?
My financial adviser with the SBDC has been tremendously helpful - he thinks like a banker and he's strong in what I am weak in. He is an amazing sounding board and an all around good guy. I am so lucky to have him around. I feel the same about my accountant. Building a strong team of people who I sincerely enjoy being around and working with has been critical to my sanity and the success of my business. It has been the thing that has allowed me to focus on what matters, my craft and my employees.
What are some of your favorite places in Detroit?
Rose's Fine Foods, Tamaleria Nuevo Leon, Belle Isle, The Film theater at the DIA, Miller's in Dearborn (does that count? If it doesn't, then Cutter's in Eastern Market). And any one of my friends' kitchens - I am always scrapping around my chef friends' places, looking for something salty!