The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

Sophomore Chocolatier Starts Up Business

The word “chocolate” often evokes images of gold foil bars and shiny truffles; it occasionally elicits drooling. But for sophomore Christina
Pao, the word “chocolate” means a lot more than just eating.

That’s because Christina is a selfmade chocolatier with a zeal for creating chocolates. At 16 years, Christina has already established her own business, Vivace Sweets, selling a variety of homemade confections, most notably truffles.

“The business is doing very well right now,” Christina said. “I’m so grateful for everybody that has been supporting me this entire time. I’m definitely getting people old and new; it’s very successful and rewarding right now, so I’m really happy.”

Nine months ago, Vivace Sweets started out selling only truffles. About six months in, the business expanded its selection to encompass a wide array of homemade sweets that now include not only chocolates, but also caramel, chocolate dipped pretzels, chocolate-dipped marshmallows and caramel popcorn. Yet despite the variety of confections offered, chocolates remain the focus of the business.

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“Really, it’s still at heart a chocolate business,” Christina said. “But if people want something different, then I’ll make something different.”

Vivace Sweets originated from Christina’s childhood interest in chocolate making. When she was in preschool, a family friend introduced the basics of chocolate making to Christina’s mother, who then continued the hobby with Christina.

“We were learning together,” Christina said. “It was almost our way of bonding. If I had to bring something to a party, she [would] teach me how to dip strawberries properly or mold chocolates.”

However, Christina’s passion for chocolate making did not fully develop until about two years ago, when Christina and her mother pulled up old ganache recipes and decided to try them out.

“We got chocolate molds, and we just started going from there,” Christina said. “We realized we were having a lot of fun, and people really enjoyed [our] chocolate… From there, I took off from my own desire to get better.”

Christina began creating different kinds of truffles, incorporating various elements such as caramel and nuts into her confections. She initially brought these chocolates to house parties or gave them away to friends and family.

“Things are best when shared,” Christina said. “That’s when I realized I love making chocolates… When I sat down and asked myself, ‘Why do I like making chocolates?,’ it’s not that I [was] making tons and tons of money…it’s because I liked giving people things that they would enjoy.”

At the time, Christina had no idea of the enterprise she would later establish. All she knew was that she loved to make chocolates.

“I never thought it would become like this, especially two years ago,” Christina said. “If you had told me that two years ago, that would have been just crazy.”

But as more people began expressing an interest in buying Christina’s chocolates, Christina realized that her practice of generosity was slowly transforming into a business.

“So we got out boxes from Smart & Final and I’d tie them up with ribbon,” Christina said. “[The business] really started to take off from there… And people said, “Can you make order forms?” And so I started putting [a form] online. It’s been amazing the amount of support I’ve received from all my chocolate.”

Three months ago, with the help of her father, Christina set up an online order form through Facebook. It is now found on the Facebook page of Vivace Sweets.

Although Vivace Sweets may be a business for profit, at its core, it retains the fundamental principle of sharing happiness through chocolates. Bolstering this principle is Christina’s view of chocolate as a universally appreciated confection.

“Everyone can agree that we all love sugar, we all love chocolate [and] we all love sweets,” Christina said. “It is something that makes me happy and it makes other people happy as well.”

Today, chocolates are mass produced by companies such as Hershey’s, Dove, Ghirardelli and Godiva. In contrast, Christina emphasizes the distinction that her chocolates are made with “lots of love” and quality.

“I use all organic [materials], all natural ingredients,” Christina said. “I want to make sure that when people take a splurge every once in a while, it is of high quality.”

Every weekend, Christina wakes up early in the morning and workslate into the night making chocolates to meet customer orders. On a given weekend, she makes anywhere from 75 to 200 truffles, with each individual truffle taking between 7 to 10 minutes. Sometimes, if Christina’s homework, water polo practices or classical guitar playing becomes too demanding, she enlists the help of her mother and younger sister in dipping marshmallows and pretzels. However, chocolate-making is always reserved for Christina.

“They always leave me with the chocolates because the skill for making them comes from experience,” Christina said. “And because chocolate- making is my passion, so they don’t want to tamper with that.”

Though the entire process is time consuming and leaves less time for her other hobbies, Christina loves what she does and considers her dedication to her business as “absolutely worth it.” She continues to maintain the highest standards for her truffles, one of which includes freshness through small batches.

“I only make things in small batches [because] I feel like things taste better in small batches,” Christina said. “I don’t know what it is about small batches, but I don’t agree with massive manufacturing…[because] that’s when I feel like you lose a lot of the authenticity of what you originally started with.”

And authenticity is exactly what Christina strives to uphold. She manages to adhere to this principle by not only handcrafting her chocolates but also following her instincts instead of recipes, challenging the fundamental manufacturing convention of uniformity in all aspects of production.

“I never write down things or measure them,” Christina said. “When I make a chocolate, I always go based off of experience and what seems right. A lot of the time, it turns out better that way than when you try to manufacture [chocolate].”

Every now and then, Christina “retires” truffles to prevent flavors from stagnating and to create space for new chocolates in her selection pamphlets, but the retirement is not necessarily permanent as customer satisfaction is always the main priority.

“If someone wants a new flavor, they will get it,” Christina said. “Or if they want me to adapt an [old] flavor for them, then I absolutely will.”

Flavors are also one of Vivace Sweet’s trademark characteristics. Christina doesn’t stray into fruit flavored fillings or any other flavors that she feels do not represent her. Instead, she sticks to classics like peanuts, sea salt, malt nougat, pretzels, caramel and ganache, trying to include homemade elements whenever she can.

“[The ingredients] are more natural and rooted from within [me],” Christina said. “I don’t have an interest in cherry nougat and chocolate with walnuts. I’m not about that and I don’t feel that it would come out as well anyway.”

Another one of Christina’s favorite aspects about starting her business is seeing people’s surprise in her dedication to her passion. Christina recognizes that her interest is considered a little unusual, especially given her age.

“I love getting the awe factor that a 16 year-old is interested in making chocolates,” Christina said. “You don’t see many chocolatiers in general…[But] I am just so happy that I have been able to find my interests now. A lot of people find that weird.”

Despite the unconventionality of Christina’s entrepreneurship, her business is thriving. Employing advertising tactics such as handing out free samples to friends and people at her father’s office, Christina depends on happy customers to spread word of her business.

“The more people I give the chocolates to, the more people that know,” Christina said. “It’s always a few loyal people in the beginning that I really want to thank for all their support.”

In the next six months, Christina hopes to expand Vivace Sweets by getting a cottage license, which will allow her to sell her confections in the downtown Los Altos store, Present, as well as at the Farmers’ Market. To obtain this license, Christina will have to take a safe food handling course, pass a kitchen inspection and properly label her sweets.

In addition to her future plans, Christina is also considering offering classes in the summer to teach people how to make truffles.

“Most people can make boxed brownies or bake cupcakes or cookies, but I feel that lots of people don’t know the art of making chocolate,” Christina said. “It’s like the saying, ‘Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, but teach a man how to fish, and he can eat for life.’ It’s the same thing
with chocolates—if I can teach people how to make chocolates, [then] it is even better.”

Though Vivace Sweets and its accompanying plans are demanding, Christina has no complaints, having extended her philosophy about making chocolates—“You just need to go with what feelsright” —to life.

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