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Chocolate Heaven

Quest Bulgaria recently took a very important fact-finding tasting session to the Jeff De Bruges Chocolatier in Sofia, a lovely shop run with dedication and devotion by Cyril and Ralitza Cressy.

Cyril, a Frenchman by birth, came to Bulgaria in 1997 as part of his French military duty. Originally posted to Bulgaria for just one year, he spent two hours a day teaching French at the Military Academy. However, Cyril loved his work so much that he asked to continue for a second year. During this time he fell in love with Bulgaria and its people, and he decided to stay on in the country after his military duty had finished, learn the language and marry his girlfriend, Ralitza.

 

In 1999, Cyril started work as a manager for a small French commercial real estate company. There was no Sofia Mall in those days, just supermarkets, no exciting shopping experiences to be had!

However, in 2003 the office closed and Cyril found himself working for a French advertisements agency. He stuck it out for three years until September 2006 when he left to begin managing the Choclatier.

So what made Cyril and Ralitza want to run a shop selling nothing but chocolate? Cyril says that he had become aware that the Bulgarian people loved chocolate! They also liked to give it as gifts on birthdays, Christmas and weddings. However, he noticed that the chocolate on offer in Bulgaria at that time was not of great quality and it was mainly mass-produced for a large commercial market.

Cyril did some research and contacted a French company, who produce Belgian chocolate - Jeff De Bruges - and asked if they would be interested in opening a shop in Bulgaria with him and Ralitza as the managers. Cyril chose well, as Jeff De Bruges is the exclusive provider of chocolate to the Belgian Royal Family! The company were very keen to work with the couple, but they demanded a good location for the shop.

The search for premises ended in the Sofia Mall. It was the last shop available, and although a little bit smaller than intended, it was agreed upon, as this was a new business and therefore better to start small and grow bigger!

The shop is decked out in the Jeff De Bruges design, logo and colours (a lovely chocolaty brown hue and a delicate peacock blue). At the shop front, the welcoming smell of chocolate draws you inside and before you know it, you are drooling over a mouth-watering display of the finest Belgian chocolate available in Bulgaria!

The chocolates are transported from Belgium by road. Transport can be difficult in summer as the lorries have to be temperature controlled to keep the chocolates in their best condition.

The shop stocks a year round collection as well as seasonal collections for Valentine’s Day, Easter and Christmas. The Easter range will consist of different sized chocolate eggs, lambs, chicks and lollipops. There are always new lines on offer too. Cyril says the best-selling chocolate is the milk chocolate, as the Bulgarians don’t seem to enjoy the plain and white chocolate quite as much.

Most of the chocolates in the shop contain a filling, praline (a nutty paste) being the best-selling of these. Other fillings include fruit, mint and nut pieces.

There is a gift-wrapping service on offer too. The chocolates are packaged as standard in the regular ‘Jeff De Bruges’ design boxes, tissue paper and bag. For an additional cost, you can choose from a wide selection of special gift boxes and organza bags, which have the added advantage that they can be used afterwards for jewellery and other items.

Unfortunately, Cyril and Raltiza are unable to offer a delivery service at the moment, but this is one side of the business they are trying to develop. The difficultyis finding a delivery service that is not only reliable, but can control the temperature of the vehicles (16-20 C).

Most people might think that working in a shop full of delicious chocolate is the closest thing to heaven you can get ... however, that is certainly not always the case for Cyril and Ralitza.

The shop is open from 10 am - 10 pm seven days a week! Cyril and Ralitza have developed a good team of staff to support them, but they still only get one day a week off, and they have a two year old son, Damien, who demands their attention too!

The week before Christmas 2006 the shop was open from 10 am until midnight every day. On the evening of the 23 December, this dedicated couple were in the shop until 4 am getting the Christmas orders ready (and they opened again at 10 am!)

So, have the couple encountered any of the infamous Bulgarian beaurocracy whilst they have been managing the shop? Cyril laughed when he told us that all the problems mainly came from the French end! The biggest difficulties they have are mistakes with customs paperwork when the chocolates leave France, however when they reach Bulgaria there is no problem at all. He is optimistic that this will improve now that Bulgaria has joined the EU.

We were lucky enough to be able to sample some of the chocolates and have to say they were absolutely wonderful. Our particular favourites were praline and also the raspberrry fillings.

One final question had to be, ‘do you think you will ever return to live in France?’

Cyril negatively shook his head. ‘My wife and son are here in Bulgaria, and so is my business. I do miss my family and friends in France, but my life is here now.’

With plans for expansion and new stores in their heads, we wish Cyril and Ralitza every success in the future!

They are certainly guaranteed regular visits from the Quest Bulgaria team.