Imagine finding a quaint, European-style chocolate shop tucked away in a strip mall in downtown Redmond. While it seems incongruous, Brugge Chocolates opened in February at 15946 Redmond Way, across from Trader Joe’s. And without any formal marketing push, the store has been so busy that owner Susan Walukiewicz has scarcely been able to catch her breath.
The first curious shoppers at Brugge quickly became repeat customers, said Walukiewicz.
“It’s ‘I need a hostess gift’ or ‘It’s someone’s birthday.’ They’re thinking of us as a gift destination,” she explained.
Catering business has been brisk, too, said Walukiewicz.
“One of the first things we did when we were open was supplying several hundred truffles for the Frederick’s (Appliance Center) grand re-opening event. We’ve since done events at Bellevue College, bridal showers, events at wine tasting rooms — and then we had four major holidays, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, when business was very good.”
Walukiewicz, who also lives in Redmond, retired from Microsoft in 2005.
“But I’m not one to sit still,” she remarked, laughing.
As she contemplated a second career, “I kept thinking of a candy theme,” she said. “My first job in high school was at a franchised chocolate store. I worked there for almost three years and learned how to do payroll, inventory, all the operations and management skills.”
That experience was helpful, but Brugge Chocolates isn’t a franchise, Walukiewicz noted. She’s an old-fashioned, hands-on, high-end chocolatier with three part-time helpers and “meticulous attention to details,” she admitted.
“I wanted to make sure I got the very best training,” she emphasized. “I went to the Chicago Chocolate Academy (http://www.chocolate-academy.com/us/en/usa) and trained with Belgian and French chocolatiers and also took courses at Vancouver’s chocolate school and got a little diploma. Wherever I could seek training — it’s very specialized. I said, ‘I’m not interested in making souffles, I’m interested in this one thing.'”
Brugge Chocolates’ specialty is enrobed truffles and Walukiewicz sells upwards of 25 flavors, although not all the same varieties all of the time. She tries to rotate flavors, offering both familiar and new selections to keep shoppers intrigued.
Her sea salted-caramel truffles have drawn “an incredible response,” said Walukiewicz and also her “Lemoncello” truffles featuring Lemoncello liqueur.
The flavor is so unique, “instead of a box of assorted truffles, many customers will buy a box of all Lemoncello because no one else in the area has it,” she said.
Brugge Chocolates’ “Marco Polo” truffles, which feature hazelnut-flavored chocolate with honey and earl grey tea, are similarly unusual and in-demand, she said.
“Some (customers) don’t want fruit, nuts or spices,” Walukiewicz continued. “I have a very beautiful dark chocolate truffle for them. And I had a special request for a bridal shower, a blueberry truffle, and then put that out on display and it ended up being a really popular seller. I try to have enough milks, some dark, some fruit, some with nuts — although not peanuts. I try to keep it fun. I’ve introduced Kahlua truffles. People come in and ask, “What’s new since I was in last?.”
Creating an authentic European look for the Brugge Chocolates shop was another priority for Walukiewicz. She visited Spain, France and Belgium to check out chocolatiers and how they encourage shoppers to “go from station to station, instead of just going in and out. … We focus not just on taste but ambiance or the shopping experience.”
Her staff member Kerry Wilkinson has been a big help in setting up the store’s lovely displays, Walukiewicz added.
“We always have samples to try, we encourage people to look, don’t pressure them to buy and don’t want them to feel intimidated. We also have boxes made up for people in a hurry, on their way to a dinner party,” she said.
Brugge Chocolates is open Monday through Saturday and closed Sundays except right before major gift-giving holidays, said Walukiewicz.
For hours or other information, call (425) 882-4722.