‘Chocolate Therapy’ – the very name, so enticing, promises a sure respite from the drudgery of this pandemic world. Chocolate Therapy is the shiny new bakery right here in Marchwood, Exton. A visit to the bakery is a sure remedy to your pandemic blues. Mrs. Nupur Modi, a trained pastry chef, a creative and a passionate baker, started the bakery in 2020. Having embarked on the journey to make her dreams a reality, Mrs.Modi was faced with the challenge of starting a business during a pandemic which imposes severe social restrictions. Even though she has had to alter and change her plans, she chose to adapt and move forward, which is so inspiring and promising. Please read her story below, and be sure to get your cake fix at Chocolate Therapy!
Can you introduce yourself to the blog? Tell us about your chocolate therapy journey, and what you have been doing during the coronavirus pandemic.
Sure. I am Nupur Modi, and I came to the U.S in 2008. My baking journey started in October of that year. I was always very fond of baking, so I decided to enroll myself in the Art Institute of Philadelphia. There, I did a diploma in pastry, which was a 10-month course. I enjoyed myself. One of the chefs over there offered me a job, to become a cake decorator. I was very thrilled at this. I worked with him for over 1 and a half years. From 2012, I decided to start baking on my own. Around that time, my first child was born. At this point, I decided to take a break from my baking passion, and take care of my child.
After 6 months, I felt a longing to bake. My friend suggested that I put an ad up on yelp. At first, I didn’t believe in this type of advertising. I questioned whether people would get business from engines such as Yelp. I eventually did post on there, and I got business very quickly. It was not too overwhelming and it was a very fun time. It was still quite busy managing the kid at home, but this baking kept me going. In 2014, my younger child was born. Again, I took a six-month break. By 2015, I had started again. This time, we had Indo-American baking events. This was initially started by 2 Indian Americans, to bring the baking skills of the Indian community together, and on display. I had found my community at this point. It was a very good platform to know people. I started getting orders from there, and my business was growing. At this point, I got to experiment with flavours and got to see what people liked and disliked. This was a live platform, where people come in, taste your cake and tell you how it is. So that is very encouraging, and you know what people want. 2015 onwards, my business gradually grew, I did everything from home and scratch.
Every time the orders got overwhelming, I would tell myself that I should shut the business down. It was just me alone handling everything, plus 2 kids. However, passion kept me going. Every night I would tell myself that I would close my business down the next morning, but when I woke up, I had forgotten all about it. Around 2018, I did think of venturing outside and getting a proper area. Everything from home was getting very messy. We did try to get out in 2018, but we were overwhelmed with all the rents and different taxes that needed to be paid, so we moved the platform to back home. Around 2019, a few of my friends who had small businesses were very encouraging, so they pushed me to venture out and expand the business. They told me that I should experiment, there is always a way to go back. I did decide that I wanted to do this. This was the best time. We started looking for places in August of 2019. We saw the place where we are right now, and we liked it. We saw the place 2019, but we signed the lease in January of 2020. We had to get forms from the health department and many things needed to get done. Everything went smoothly, but we were just surprised that it took so long. After we signed our lease, there was no sign of COVID -19. Till around February, COVID was not a very big thing. We were going to get access to the property in February. We got around 3 months of grace period to start work and see how things were working, and then we were planning to open in April, and March we were going to finish construction. Everything was going very smoothly, and my in-laws had come from India to help me out with the business. Since my in-laws had come, so I decided to take a quick break to India for a wedding before I started the business commitment. I landed March 12th, and everything was shut down on March 15th. This was very surprising and sudden for me, and I was starting to get concerned with the business. Being positive helped, so I feel like even though there was bad news, it was still a good thing because I got more time to plan the business well. We got to look for hires, and we got to give more time to my family well. In the back of my head, I had this worry that I would start my business and my kids would not get enough family time, so this break was good for that.
In August, we decided to re-open the business, and the landlord was very supportive of the current situation. By that time, everyone else was super used to the COVID situation, that we didn’t have any paranoia and no one had a question on how to get about. People understood that they would have to wear there masks and sanitize there hands, but they were still able to enter shops and get on with their life. It was a new normal for many people. Another thing which helped for me was that I had a good clientele. I had this business which had been going on for 5 years, which helped. People knew me, and they had tasted my cakes and everything. It worked out a lot better than I expected. My husband encouraged me to keep on going for everything.
I tasted a few of the delicious cakes that you have here at chocolate therapy. Can you give us some insight into what you have here at the shop?
I specialize in a special type of cake known as fresh cream cakes. It is lighter than the buttercream cakes you have here, and it is very appealing to the Indian pallet. It is very similar to the kind of pastries you get in India, and it is a European taste. There was a market lacking for that kind of pastries and also something with a variety of different flavors. These are much lighter, and also are egg less. Some people are allergic to eggs and don’t have eggs. This is slightly different to veganism, as egg less baking can include dairy products. Lots of Indians here don’t eat eggs for religious purposes, so I wanted to have these cakes as options for them. That was also a blessing for me, and I specialized in that. This type, there was a good demand for it. I also started doing Indian fusion desserts. I was just trying to experiment with something, to see if that would work for the exhibition, and that instantly became a hit. I understood that this Indian fusion was going well. I then moved on to Jamune, Paan, and Rasmalai flavorings. I think the Indians out here really took to that.
Also, we started featuring cake cups here at the bakery, which my husband and I enjoyed. We didn’t want to have cake slices, as once they are open, they dry up. We decided to make these cups so you could pack it away and keep it, without worrying about finishing it up right away. With whatever cake crumbs I had left, I used to make some layered dessert for my husband. These are easy to grab and go. People have understood the concept, and are experimenting with that. In this way, it is a good way for people to keep trying different flavours for the next time they order.
What were some of your inspirations behind your business?
When I started working, I decided that I didn’t want to work under someone, I wanted to be my boss. I think that communication was a bit problematic, so I knew from the beginning that I would prefer to work on my own. It was also pretty clear that I did not want to be on mom duty all of the time, and I wanted to do something separate from that, so I could also give my 100 per cent when on mom duty. Those were my inspiration, and I always wanted to do this. I am a psychology student, and I was very split between these two things because I loved both of them. I knew that if I did have a shop, I would name it Chocolate Therapy because it would have both of my passions combined. That’s how the name came. It just happened afterword.
Started working on this during the pandemic. Did you have any obstacles?
Finding contractors. We were delayed, we could have started a bit earlier, but we couldn’t find contractors. If we went to get furniture, they were on backorders, so everything was delayed. Things were shipped in from China, and they were delayed. I was lucky in other aspects. I had started hiring people in January, and we had interviewed 2 people, but one of them had an emergency. We went back to the first one, and she came in. I was lucky in other aspects. I was lucky that my in-laws were here for several months, and we could get into the routine.
Were there any plans that got shelved?
We did have plans of doing b-day parties, baking classes and brunches. Those are on hold for obvious reasons. It’s fine. I wanted to start all of these things together, but it would have been very overwhelming if I had, so the pandemic kind of forced me to take it slow, which was a good thing in the long run. Those plans are on hold for 2020, and we will start worrying about that in 2021.
What are some of your motivations?
The first thing is passion. The passion keeps you motivated. I am a people’s person, and I love when people tell me the cake if good. Those comments keep us going, that is it, client appreciation and the passion of creating something new and experiment also motivated me a lot.
For first-timers, know your passion and follow it. That way the work doesn’t feel like work, which is very important., Also being organized helps to get things together. Asking for help is also very important. You cannot do everything on your own, so delegate it to people willing to help you. Keep a good balance, don’t overwhelm yourself and make sure that you don’t burn out. My husband keeps a check on me, so find someone who will make sure that you are doing ok and check on you. Take it one thing at a time.