August 18, 2008

New Businesses: Cocoa Belle

By Grant, Rachel

Cocoa Belle

Owner: Carmen Portillo

Address: 400 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock, 72201

Phone: (501) 952-6064

Hours: Tue.-Fri., 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

Start-up: June 28, 2008

E-mail: [email protected]

Web Site:

Carmen Portillo, owner of Cocoa Belle, is making candy almost too beautiful to eat.

Cocoa Belle specializes in chocolate truffles that come in a variety of flavors, including key lime, mango, strawberry and milk and dark chocolate. "Some of the flavors are seasonal like the fruit flavors, but others are year-round," Portillo said.

Portillo, who creates her own recipes, uses all-natural, kosher and fair-trade and slave-labor-free chocolate.

"Your common Snickers bar is not made out of real chocolate but chocolate coating," Portillo said. "A lot of chocolate out there is made of hydrogenated oils. That's why a bag of M&Ms is 53 cents because it is so cheap to produce."

A piece of Cocoa Belle chocolate, each of which is handmade, costs $2, but the chocolate's quality goes far to explain the price. Fine liqueurs, herbs and fresh cream make up Portillo's European- styled treats, which are decorated with gold leafing and colored air- brushed cocoa butter. It takes 12 to 15 hours for Portillo to fill up her display case.

"What I do is very labor intensive. I use Swiss chocolate that comes from paid plantation workers. Since my chocolate comes from paid labor, I have to pay more," Portillo said.

The Little Rock native attended the University of Central Arkansas in Conway for a year before deciding to pack her bags and go live in London for 14 months. Portillo said she first started working with chocolate while overseas.

She returned to Little Rock and worked at the accounting firm BKD but quickly became tired of being in an office and was looking for the opportunity to be creative.

In 2006, she attended the Hotter School of Pastry Arts in Orlando, Fla. Then she received her certified chocolatier license from the Ecole Chocolat in Vancouver, British Columbia.

"I wanted to do something in the culinary arts," Portillo said. "I always knew I wanted to open my own business. As a chef, I didn't want to be cooking until 10 p.m. If I was working at a bakery, I didn't want to be up at 3 a.m. With chocolate, it is a mid-day operation. People don't expect you to be open really early or late. Plus [making chocolate] is fun."

The 24-year-old invested $10,000 in equity and obtained $20,000 in loans to start her business in the River Market. "The River Market helps small businesses get on their feet. Being here in the River Market, I am able to reach a broad audience."

Portillo sells from 400 to 600 pieces of chocolate daily. "I think people have been anticipating [the opening of my business]. They think 'finally someone is making something handmade.' "

With business going well, Portillo hopes in the future to have a free-standing location with a production facility in the back.

Copyright Arkansas Business Jul 28, 2008

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