WEDDING-Yumi's yummies: A second career as chocolatier
In her first career, pianist Yumi Womack composed sweet music for pop stars in her native Tokyo. Twenty five years later, she's making sweet harmonies of a different variety– for the taste buds. As founder of a new gourmet chocolate business, Pandora Chocolatier, Womack says she's found a way to turn her passion for chocolate into a second career.
"I've always loved chocolate; it's my favorite thing," says Womack, who started experimenting with chocolate recipes about five years ago. Her early efforts making truffles won fans among her friends, who suggested she sell her goods. Although she was intrigued by the idea, Womack didn't do so immediately, but instead set out to perfect her skills. After learning as much as she could on her own, last year she decided to go pro and jetted off to Paris for a two-week course at the prestigious École du Grand Chocolate, a school affiliated with the makers of famed Valrhona chocolate.
Upon returning home, Womack tackled the less delicious side of launching a business– applying for licenses to make and sell chocolate out of her Free Union home. This past summer and fall, Womack plied her wares at the City Market on Saturday mornings, and in November and December, she set up shop at the Holiday Market at the east end of the Downtown Mall. Demand for her gourmet goodies was high, and she and her business partner, Misako Fergusson, put in 40 hour weeks in her kitchen churning out chocolates. Their work paid off.
"I sold every single box I made," she says with surprised delight. "Thousands of dollars of chocolate!"
Currently, Womack makes six flavors, including her favorites– blood orange and muscobar sugar. For Valentine's Day, she says, she's creating a romantic variety: pink champagne chocolate with berries, which she calls "the ultimate luxury." Her 12-count boxes retail for $16 ($1 more for holiday specials), while small boxes of four sell for $6 or $7, and information about flavors is available online at pandorachocolatier.com.
She's not the only high-end chocolatier in Charlottesville. Gearhart's Chocolates opened in 2002 in the Main Street Market, introducing many to the art of fine chocolate making. Womack says she's a fan of their work as well, but despite Gearhart's' prominence in town, she believes there's room for both businesses to succeed. "You can't have too much chocolate," she laughs.
She's already won fans among other local business owners.
"She does absolutely phenomenal work," says Dave Fafara, owner of Shenandoah Joe's. Fafara met Womack when both had stalls at City Market. Womack uses Shenandoah Coffee's java and tea in some of her recipes, and Fafara says he was sold on her chocolate after his first taste and will also soon be selling it from the Preston Avenue store.
Setting out on a new business venture is exciting, says Womack, but she hasn't forgotten her first career either– and making chocolate allows her to indulge in both.
"I can do it at home listening to my favorite reggae music," says Womack.
But the best part of making chocolate: "A lot of people are very happy," she says, "and that makes me so happy."