Goleta’s beloved Chocolate Gallery is celebrating its big three-oh on Sunday, March 11. The store, which actually first opened in the Granada Building in downtown Santa Barbara in 1980, moved to its current location in the Calle Real Shopping Center in 1982. Owner Karen Kegg says, “Wow, who would’ve thought we’d get this far?” reminiscing on the years they spent in Goleta. Kegg and her husband, Tim Johnson, enjoy their longtime presence in the area, as they often hear from their customers, “Don’t ever go out of business.” And they don’t intend to. After all, Kegg and Johnson have their own chocolate addictions to feed, Kegg told The Santa Barbara Independent in the following interview.
How did you get your start?
Well, I grew up in the chocolate business in Houston, working in my father’s store, Kegg’s Candies. It was a considerably different store. He had boxed chocolates — like See’s (which was only in California). And I love chocolate; my husband will tell you that we had to open our own store so he could support my habit! But I knew in college I wanted to open my own business. I had an older sister who didn’t know what to do with her life, so we took a trip to a candy convention in San Antonio, and I told her, “Let’s open a candy store.” Then, I worked for my dad every summer, and one summer when I was in college, I asked him, “Can you show me how to do this?” and he spent that entire summer teaching me how to run a candy business.
Where do you get your recipes?
Definitely from my dad. They’ve changed over the years, though. I’ve learned more, and I go to a lot of candy conventions and ask around and adapt candies for California — almonds and walnuts are way more popular here. The Texas Crunch, our most popular piece by far, is my recipe. It comes from my own personal addiction from when I worked for my father. I would take the scraps from the English toffee to make them and then, when we opened the store here, I’d do it for myself, and the customers found out about it. We started to put out small bags of the leftovers and they’d buy it. So I realized we should make it separately, and it has surpassed everything in the store.
What is the most bizarre thing you’ve had to make out of chocolate?
One time, we made a hot tub for someone!
Growing up in the confections business and owning your own chocolate shop, do you still love chocolate? Oh my gosh, I am the biggest fan of anyone I know. Yes! I am totally hooked on it. I might say I can’t eat that much bread or pizza or whatever, but, yeah, I eat all the chocolate I want.
If you had a time machine, what would your current self — after 30 years in the business — go back and tell your younger self? Obviously, don’t sweat the small stuff, “take it easy.” At 25 years old, I wanted things done in just such a way. Wow, I was really rigid on certain things. I’ve really mellowed over the years. If I have an employee that wants to do something differently than myself, I’ve learned to think that maybe the customers would like it too.
You opened the first store when you were 25. There are probably lots of 25-year-olds out there with similar dreams. What is your advice to them? Do your homework. That is absolutely the most important thing in any business. That doesn’t mean business school; it just means you have to understand if a concept’s going to be acceptable. And you have to be willing to put in the hours without any pay, but that’s all part of the schooling. It’s really common to say, “I want to be my own boss,” but, really, how many hours are you willing to work, and how many Friday and Saturday nights are you willing to give up? Fine, if you are your own boss, you can close early … if it works. And be flexible.
Chocolate Gallery, 5705 Calle Real, Monday-Saturday, noon–5 p.m. and Sunday noon–5 p.m. Call (805) 967-4688 or see www.chocolategallery.com