Chicago has long been associated with great food such as hot dogs and deep-dish pizza. But for those with a sweeter tooth, Chicago is also home to a variety of chocolatiers offering a delicious selection of treats. Chicago-native Valerie Beck is founder and CEO of Chicago Chocolate Tours, a company that offers guided tours as fun ways to sample and indulge in Chicago chocolate creations. In a recent interview, Beck described how she channels her love for chocolate and charity into a company that, like the chocolate industry, creates happiness everyday.
Q: How did a love for chocolate and Chicago mix to inspire you to establish Chicago Chocolate Tour Company?
A: I started Chicago Chocolate Tours in 2005 because I love people, Chicago and chocolate! When I was a little girl, I wouldn’t drink milk unless it was chocolate milk, and my love of chocolate deepened over the years. I learned about chocolate by reading the latest books and articles. I lived in Europe for five years, and my chocolate passion continued to grow. When I came back to my hometown of Chicago, I realized there were so many talented chocolatiers and pastry chefs right here, there ought to be a tour to link them and help other chocolate lovers discover them. There wasn’t a tour, so I started one!
Q: How has the company grown over the last few years?
A: When I started the business, I was the whole company: the president, admin, treasurer, tour guide, person who takes spam off the website – everything! It’s been a dream come true to see customers fall in love with what we do, and as demand has grown our company has grown. Today we are in Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston, and we have managers, tour guides and other team members, all of whom are called Choc Stars. We offer around 20 tours per week in Chicago, in various neighborhoods. We have public tours where you can bring your mom or daughter or friend and join the group, and we also give private tours where you can bring your bachelorette party or office or clients and enjoy your own chocolate adventure with us.
Q: Why is Chicago such a natural fit for your company?
A: Chicago has always been a candy and chocolate capital, ever since railway lines let raw materials in and finished products out. Today, we’re seeing a renaissance of up and coming chocolatiers and pastry chefs who are taking artisan chocolate in exciting new directions, from a deepening of the classics, to an expansion of the chocolate repertoire, using natural ingredients and creative interpretations.
Q: How have you merged your passion for charity into your business objectives?
A: Business is about finding a need and filling it, and so is charity. Business is as much about social justice as we make it. Our mission is “Uplift Through Chocolate,” and we uplift our customers, store partners, team and charity partners. Our charity of choice at Chicago Chocolate Tours is CARE, which helps women in impoverished countries around the world start businesses to lift themselves and their families and communities out of poverty. We also support a number of charities closer to home, including CASA, which helps abused and neglected children in the court system. As a former lawyer, and as a woman entrepreneur, I like supporting organizations that my customers, team, and I believe in.
Q: What type of tours do you currently offer?
A: We offer guided walking and tasting tours of select chocolate shops, bakeries and cafes in neighborhoods such as the Magnificent Mile/Gold Coast, Downtown Loop, Lakeview and Geneva. You’ll learn about the history and health benefits of chocolate while sampling treats from the world of chocolate and pastry. Samples might include a champagne truffle, dark chocolate cake, white chocolate bread, triple chocolate cupcakes, triple chocolate malted milk balls, chocolate croissants and even chocolate tea!
Q: Any advice for ladies interested in taking a tour?
A: Sign up at chicagochocolatetours.com, and get ready to enjoy nature’s perfect food–chocolate!
Chicago Chocolate Tours
500 N. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611