“Welcome to Rousseau,” Nathalie Morin greets customers, upon entering the specialty French chocolate shop, Rousseau Chocolatier. Fittingly, she says the shop’s name with a French accent, rolling the “R” and deepening her voice.
The small shop is clean, bright and cozy, in a minimalistic sort of way. One wall is accented with warm wood, the other walls are painted white. Wooden shelves hold a small number of other products like chocolate bars and specialty caramels.
It smells, aptly, like chocolate. However, it’s not a sugary, sweet scent. It’s a deep, cocoa aroma, with multiple layers laced with subtle hints of other flavours.
There is only one glass showcase, but it is full of at least 10 different types of chocolates. Behind that, there is a shiny hot chocolate machine and a small cabinet of colourful macarons in flavours like banana rum, blackberry and apple cinnamon.
Owned and operated by Ottawa native Morin and her husband Julien Rousseau-Dumarcet, Rousseau Chocolatier has been in business on 1277 Hollis Street since May 2014.
Originally from Roquebrune-sur-Argens in southeast France, Rousseau-Dumarcet now handcrafts specialty chocolates, brownies and French macarons everyday on site in Halifax.
Rousseau-Dumarcet left school at age 16 to find a job, and initially began working as a pastry chef and chocolatier. Since then, he has worked for hotels or in chocolate shops across Europe, and has had professional training in France and Scotland.
Morin and Rousseau-Dumarcet met about six years ago, in Wakefield, Que. Now, at age 30 and 28, respectively, and based in Halifax, Rousseau-Dumarcet crafts the business’s products and Morin runs the store front, greeting customers, offering samples and describing in detail each flavour of chocolate.
Through the viewing bay, opposite the showcase full of chocolates, Rousseau-Dumarcet can usually be seen at work, in his white and navy blue uniform.
He sets up the workplace carefully, making sure his tools are in the proper place. If he’s making macarons, he will turn on the oven and mix meringue made with sugar and egg whites into a second batter. Then, not spilling even a drop of the final batter, he’ll scoop it into a bag.
Hunching over the table so his face is mostly obscured, Rousseau-Dumarcet squeezes the batter onto trays covered in white sheets. The batter comes out as small round dots that will soon be, in this case, chocolate macarons. He moves quickly, filling a tray in only a minute or two.
When he’s making chocolate, his favourite step of the process is finishing off each individual chocolate by garnishing it with a unique topping: a sprinkle of coconut; crushed rose petals; a simple, single pumpkin seed or a more complex, edible design of pink skulls.
Out front, Morin describes exactly how the chocolates are made and has detailed description for each flavour on display.
The peanut butter cranberry is a “a reminder of those PB and J days, it’ll take you back, its comfort food;” the orange balsamic caramel was inspired by fresh, tangy summer salads; and the lemon ganache has been described as “lemon meringue pie dipped in chocolate.”
As for how much chocolate they eat themselves? Morin says they each eat only one chocolate per week, and both name the lemon ganache as their favourite flavour.
“When you work with chocolate all day everyday, you just don’t crave it as much,” she says.
Morin and Rousseau-Dumarcet spend seven days a week in their store, usually from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. or 6 p.m., and will occasionally take one day off every two weeks. They do not have any employees.
Besides creating confections for the shop on site, Rousseau Chocolatier also provides products to several hotels and businesses in Halifax, takes custom orders and caters for events. A gift box of 12 chocolates can be bought for $19.
Both owners say their business is unique because of the simplicity and specialty of the products and their freshness.
“We are definitely a specialty store,” says Morin. “We try not to spread ourselves too thin by offering pastries and all these different types of products.”
As well, ingredients like chillies and sea salt are purchased from local farmers’ markets, maple from Acadian Maple Products, rose petals from the Annapolis Valley and other ingredients from a New Brunswick based distribution company called Dolphin Village.
For the two entrepreneurs, who had been planning, doing paper work and researching Halifax for two years prior to moving, the preparation stage of the business plan was the most stressful. However, Morin says they were motivated to keep going through this initial struggle.
“We’ve been waiting for this for years,” she said, “so it made sense to push through it as much as we could.”
“It is very difficult when you start, because all the money you put in the business is your money, it comes from your pocket. So if I failed, I lost everything,” says Rousseau-Dumarcet. “It’s very stressful, but after, when you see the business grow, it’s amazing. It’s like a little baby.”
For French born Rousseau-Dumarcet, finding a suitable location to establish his first business was the greatest concern.
“I liked a good quality of life and all my life I lived near the Mediterranean, so when we moved to Canada I wanted to be close to the water,” he says.
“We wanted to be able to enjoy life,” says Morin.
Halifax won against their other choice, Vancouver, because it is more affordable, there was less competition and is located closer to both Morin and Rousseau-Dumarcet’s families.
The co-owners of Rousseau Chocolatier say their experience in Halifax so far has been positive.
“It’s amazing. We work for our future,” says Rousseau-Dumarcet. “It’s really nice to have our own business.”
“People generally love the story, two people meeting and creating this idea, running their own chocolate shop, and hard work does pay off and in the end we did pull through and do what we’ve always wanted to do,” says Morin. “I think that’s the romance about it.”