West Asheville is about to get yet another new business — and this time it’s all about chocolate. Lulu’s Chocolate, based in Sedona, Ariz., has chosen Asheville as the city in which it will open its second location.
Owner Louise “Lulu” Sharpe and her husband, Michael Bonner, moved to Asheville in September and are currently scoping out locations for a new manufacturing facility and retail space along Haywood Road.
Why a second location and why Asheville? Sharpe, who was born in Tennessee, says she always missed the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains. A few years ago, she visited a friend in Asheville, and it was love at first sight.
“It’s just the coolest place,” she says. “The size, the weather, altitude, people and open-minded culture are just the best. I want to add something to this amazing community – and chocolate is what it’s going to be.”
Sharpe explains that her chocolate adventure originally sprang from a personal quest. Several years ago, she was saddened to learn that she had an intolerance to sugar and could no longer eat chocolate, which she loves. Soon afterward, during a trip to Hawaii, she discovered the cacao tree and raw chocolate.
The experience, she says was eye-opening, and she began making her own raw chocolate creations. Soon, friends started asking for some, and the rest is history.
Lulu’s Chocolate products are gluten-free, organic, soy-free, 100 percent vegan, low-glycemic, fair-trade and made from pure Ecuadoran cacao. The business is mostly wholesale, with one retail space in Sedona — Lulu’s Chocolate Lounge.
Plans for the West Asheville location include a retail shop and lounge that can accommodate 40-60 people, along with a small stage for live music performances. Bonnner, a musician, singer and songwriter, will handle the music aspect of the new venture.
The ambiance of the Asheville shop, says Sharpe, will resemble that of its Sedona sister. Red-on-red velvet wallpaper will grace the walls, and Victorian-style furnishings will contribute to an “other-worldly” experience.
“We’re going for a feeling that is posh, timeless and luxurious,” she says. “It’s going to be cozy and yummy.”
Lulu’s Chocolate plans to hire about 10-12 employees and will source as many ingredients locally as possible. “Of course, we can’t source items like cacao and vanilla, but when we can get items like local strawberries — look out,” she says.
The team also plans to work with local businesses such as Dobra Tea and Your Mother’s Medicine and carry their products. “We’re a dessert house, but we’re serving to a fill a specific niche,” says Sharpe. “There’s a gap that needs to be bridged between healthy and gourmet, and that’s what we’re planning to do.”
The couple are hoping to open the new location by January 2017 — possibly earlier, if they find investors.