It all started about 10 years ago, at The Shop, before The Chocolate Shop was even open.
Belgian owner Griet Lorre’ decided to make chocolates and put some one-dollar Valentine’s Day boxes for sale in the refrigerator.
“All of a sudden, we got these school kids that we hadn’t seen throughout the year, whole different groups of kids taking 15 minutes to decide what they should buy,”Loire said.
She was astonished at how quickly the word spread among the school children.
Every year, Valentine’s Day business has grown since then. The following year, $5 boxes were added and people started looking at them.
“Every year we sell out,” Lorre’ said. “For us it starts three weeks before with big orders. By the end of January this year, she had more than 50 Valentine’s Day orders.
For The Chocolate Shop, located on Street 240, the big sales days are the 12th, 13th and 14th of February.
Lorre’ doesn't take special orders anymore after the 12th.
"After the 12th, customers can buy what’s in the fridge,” she said.
One thing about Valentine’s Day in Cambodia, Lorre’ says, it’s not just for sweethearts.
“Valentine’s Day is everybody for everybody. In Japan its girls for boys. In America it’s both. Here in Cambodia, it is girlfriends, classmates, for father, for mother or grandmother.”
There is sure to be a “tsunami” of people in The Chocolate Shop today, starting at 7am.
The most expensive Valentine’s Day item is the chocolate heart box for $60 which contains nearly 1 kilo of chocolate. Personalized messages, written in chocolate, can be added to the gift boxes to make the gift extra special, Lorre’ says.
The standard Valentine’s Day gift at The Chocolate Shop now costs $24, which buys a cute chocolate heart box filled with pralines.
“All the boxes are chocolate as well. All made in our own workshop.”
The second Chocolate Shop on street 63 is open now for Valentine’s Day.
Lorre’ says her most important job is quality is checking on the production quality, training people, and making sure the standards are kept high.
She says The Chocolate Shop is in the middle of the business season right now, with things slowing down from the end of April until September.
Lorre’ imports Belgian ingredients. Most of the items sold are made based on chocolate with all kinds of fillings including pralines, bon bons and truffles.
“Part of the chocolate tradition comes with flavours like praline, hazelnut, coffee, caramel and almond,” she said.
Lorre’ and her team have created a collection of specialty chocolates based on Cambodian flavours, using Mondulkiri honey, Kampong Speu sugar, Kampot pepper, lime, basil and sesame.
“The local people like the Cambodian flavors and they are very proud that it is made by Cambodians. Kampot pepper is the most popular chocolate for our customers,” she said.
Chinese New Year is also busy for Lorre’, a time when people buy chocolates and take them overseas.
“Our chocolate is made in the house and it stays really fresh,” she said.
Chocolate keeps best at a temperature between 10 and 15 degrees, but also requires low humidity, so The Shop’s production area has a large dehumidifier running which helps assure the shiny appearance of the finished chocolate products.
Some of the smaller Valentine’s Day items can be had for $1.30, $3 for chocolate bars, and a chocolate map of Cambodia for $22 in a silk box.
“I’m very happy because the biggest satisfaction we get out of this is we have happy customers. It is a business that pulls out smiles and happy people.”
Lorre’ first came to Phnom Penh in 1998 with her family. She enrolled her two children in Northbridge School and ended up running the canteen at Northbridge. She opened the Lunch Box at Northbridge in 1999 which extended to The Club at Northbridge in 2000.
In 2001, Lorre’ opened The Shop on Street 240; in 2007 she opened The Chocolate Shop and then in 2010 she opened The Shop in Tuol Kork where she keeps her office. In total, she has 70 employees.
“My kids are grown up and in Europe now.”
Lorre’ is happy to participate in the training of young Cambodians, but it is hard to take when favourite employees move on to other jobs.
“I am shocked in the beginning when people leave, but in the end it turns out to be ok, as it gives other staff the opportunity to move to higher level.”
The Tuol Kork operation serves as the bakery and the kitchen for both outlets. When Lorre’ first started the operation, Eric Proye, owner of Karem Ice cream, worked eight years training local staff in the bakery. He’s still in Phnom Penh running his own successful ice-cream business now.
Lorre’ is proud of her business.
“Everything is originally made, and fresh with no additives. That’s the great joy of doing business here.
“We send out bakery items to restaurants and coffee shops and provide a lot of competitors, a list we don’t disclose,” she said.
The Shop is open from 7am to 7pm, 7 days a week while The Chocolate Shop opens at 8am and closes at 7:30pm.