Company To Watch – BON BON BON

ALEXANDRA CLARK

Detroit, MI

INDUSTRY: FOOD SERVICES
BUSINESS: BON BON BON
YEAR FOUNDED: 2014
PROGRAM: 2016 EMERGING LEADERS DETROIT – Brought to by Interise

“When I think about employing Detroiters, that’s something that I feel very strongly about. I’m an artist really but in order to sell my art I have to hire people . . . I could not be prouder of anything other than employing people.”

BUSINESS OVERVIEW
Bon Bon Bon was founded in 2014 by Alexandra Clark. Alex describes her chocolatier space as both studio and science lab. She emphasizes the artistic freedom the space provides for the company’s chocolate makers. Each brick-and- mortar retail location is designed with an open-kitchen layout, removing any wall  between the customer and chocolate maker. “We demystify the chocolate-making process.” Over two short years, Bon Bon Bon is riding a wave of success: Recently named on Forbes’ list of 30 Under 30, the company has already expanded to three locations in the Detroit area, including a pop-up operation that brings her signature chocolate to restaurants throughout the country.

MANAGING GROWTH
The explosion and speed of her business’s growth came with its own set of challenges. “We were growing so rapidly… I didn’t expect to grow like this.” She was looking for a chance to slow down, take stock, and “put her feet on the ground.” These concerns led Alex to enroll in the U.S. Small Business Association’s Emerging Leaders program.

A lot of what Alex learned in the program was self-affirming: “It just made me more confident with some of the things that I find myself having to discuss and really think about on a daily basis.” Alex learned how to better organize and manage her growth. “It’s helped us continue to develop systems and I think developing systems has been our biggest challenge in terms of growth.”

Thanks to her success, Alex is enjoying new fame in her hometown of Detroit. “If we didn’t love it here and we didn’t feel the love of each other, then we would have left when things got hard.”

Yearning for Chocolate in Detroit

At the age of fourteen, Alexandra Clark knew what she wanted to do with her life: create and sell sweets. “I loved the interaction that people have when they’re buying sweets,” Alex recalls. “It’s so fun!”

After graduating college, she left her home state of Michigan to pursue her craft in places as far off as Norway, New Zealand, and in the North American cities of Vancouver, Aspen, Chicago, and Boston. “For eight years, I moved on average every six months.” But when it came to starting her own business, Alex knew she had to return to Michigan.

Before starting her own business in Detroit, Alex was advised by a potential investor to first get more business experience in cities. She moved to Boston where she worked for a big-name chocolate restaurant. It was there that Alex almost started her business, but something stopped her short: “I’m not really passionate about employing Bostonians. When I think about employing Detroiters, that’s something that I feel very strongly about!” In 2014, Alex drove back to Detroit and opened Bon Bon Bon.

“People in Detroit work hard and aren’t afraid of it. I like that. It’s who we are.”

The Detroit community does much to show off the Power of the Network. “The collaborative environment in Detroit is something that, anytime somebody is here from the outside and is exposed to it, they’re just shocked to see how supportive everyone is of everyone else.” This “love of each other” makes Detroit an important place for Alex. She remembers countless times when neighbors have leant a much-needed hand.

Hamtramck-Factory
“If it’s late at night they’ll come down and bring their leftovers from dinner because we haven’t eaten yet. It’s that kind of a place. And, growing up here, that kind of community is exactly what I yearned for when I opened my own business.”

In 2016, Alex was named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30. Thanks to the media attention she received as a result, banks began to knock on her door to invest, offering new lines of credit. And while Alex could have signed any of the lucrative deals sent her way, she stuck with a local, Detroit bank: “When we found them, we knew that they were our people. They were cautious but enthusiastic and they understood how, and more importantly why we run our business the way we do.”

Alex describes Bon Bon Bon as both studio and science lab. She emphasizes the artistic freedom the space provides for the company’s chocolate makers. Each brick-and-mortar retail location is designed with an open-kitchen layout, removing any wall between the customer and chocolate maker. “We demystify the chocolate-making process.” For this to be truly successful there is natural communication between customers and artists. This natural communication is made even more important by the unique makeup of the city.

In just two years, Bon Bon Bon has expanded to three locations, including a national pop-up with big plans for continued growth. Alex remains grounded: “We’re from Detroit… as we expand we’ll carry that with us. It is who we are.”

Caprese
Originally published by Interise, where small business goes to grow.”