Premium Chocolatiers at Allô! Chocolat Blend Creativity and Hard Work into Mouth-watering Treats

September 6, 2023
All photos by Tracy Shilobrit Allô! Chocolat makes much of their inventory by hand every morning.

“Life is just a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get,” according to Forrest Gump, and when you enter Allô! Chocolat on Main Street in Waukesha, you never know what wonderful concoctions are awaiting you. But they’re all delicious, and a large portion of them are made behind the scenes in the store’s production area by owner and chocolatier Jim Shanklin and his wife Tawnya who runs the rest of the business. 

The Shanklins are about to celebrate their 6th anniversary owning the shop, which they acquired in October 2017. The couple previously owned a bed and breakfast in Palmyra while he worked full time as a teacher in Waukesha and she worked in administration for an ophthalmology department. They were looking for something different they could do together as he retired from teaching, and along came a premium chocolate shop, to their delight. 

“We’ve worked in restaurants and we loved chocolate, but we did not know how to work with chocolate, so that was something new for us to learn and it’s been great!” said Tawnya. “We’ve also really enjoyed getting to know our regular customers. It’s so nice to see them. People come into the shop and they’re happy because it’s chocolate.”

Not many businesses get that kind of reception from their customers every day, but chocolate is actually scientifically shown to be mood-elevating due to the tryptophan in cocoa that increases serotonin – also known as the happiness hormone. The sugar and caffeine in chocolate also contribute to the good mood. But a larger factor is likely that we associate chocolate with happy moments like holidays. Nonetheless, it is a great job benefit to be greeted with happy faces every day. 

Dozens of premium truffles displayed for customers.
Rows and rows of chocolate enrobed candies and cookies
A grandfather looks for treats with his granddaughter.
Hundreds of chocolates available for sale

How Do They Make Those Fancy Chocolates?

Most of us are helpless to turn down a quality chocolate truffle, but how exactly do they make those pretty little things? According to Tawnya, it starts with making the ganache filling, incorporating chocolate, heavy cream and a flavoring. Then, a silicone mold is filled with chocolate, then drained to leave only the outer covering of chocolate and letting it harden. The ganache is added and then the truffle is capped off with more chocolate. But the process is still incomplete. The truffles are popped out of the molds and then sent through an enrober to cover them with yet another layer of chocolate and then they are decorated. 

The chocolatiers are referred to as artisans because of the painstaking process and creativity required to create each candy, and each variation of that candy. The artistic skills to hand decorate candies and hand paint luster dust on tiny chocolate pyramids require both talent and patience. 

Many of the products at Allô! Chocolat require hand-dipping various products in chocolate tempering pots, such as strawberries, pretzels, Oreos, caramel apples and marshmallows. The enrober is used to produce chocolate covered caramels, turtles, nuts and other cluster-style chocolates. 

Tawnya was clear that not all of the products in the store are 100% made there, including the ice cream and novelty candies they offer, but a wide range of products are a combination of sourced products that are then enhanced with chocolate in the store, such as the chocolate covered Oreos and marshmallows. 

The store’s staff ranges from four or five people in the summer to 10 in the fall holiday season. Halloween through Christmas is their busiest time of year, followed by Easter and then Valentine’s Day. 

What’s Next at Allô! Chocolat?

The Shanklins are always looking for something new to add to their product line so they keep a keen eye on what is trending in the premium chocolate and candy industry. In 2021, Tawnya said it was “cocoa bombs,” which are a chocolate shell filed with cocoa mix and mini marshmallows. They bought silicone molds for them and made them in milk chocolate, white chocolate and peppermint crush flavors. “You put it in a mug, pour hot milk over it, the chocolate shell melts and all the cocoa mix and marshmallows come up, making a really great cup of hot chocolate,” she explained. “I am not exaggerating when I say that we sold over 10,000 cocoa bombs that year, but in 2022, we only sold half as many, so that trend has faded.” 

Tawnya added, “We’re getting a freeze-drying machine in a couple of months to try making freeze dried candy, which is all the rage right now, especially freeze-dried Skittles.” They’re also offering Bavarian glazed nuts on Thursdays and Fridays, which is another current trend. 

The other big thing in their future is growing their chocolate classes. “We do classes with the Girl Scouts and a lot of birthday parties, as well as some team building events, but right now it’s based on call-in requests rather than a regular schedule,” Tawnya explained. The classes are held around the corner from the store in one of their four business units in the building, which they refer to as the studio. The plan is to refresh the curriculum with their instructor and build up to a regular class schedule for customers. 

Allo Chocolat studio
Allô! Chocolat Studio classroom

Tawnya’s advice for other entrepreneurs is, “If you’ve got an idea and you think you want to do it, you’ve got to just go for it. I know so many people who sit and think about it and never get there. My husband and I are kind of risk takers and we just jump in and do it. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. You know, you will never know unless you try it.”