Chocolate became a part of Cindy Pedraza Puente’s life at an early age. Her mom, Andrea Podraza, was the production manager for one of the first independent chocolatiers in Dallas. “My mom starting working for them when I was eight years old,” she said. As teenagers, she and her sister, worked part-time summer jobs in the shop cutting ribbons and helping with billing.
They didn’t know it then, but this experience working together was a glimpse of what life would look like many years down the road. “It’s funny to think about it now,” she said with a laugh and a look of amazement. “The things that we did then to be close to our mom and make some money for the family ended up being the things we really do now as grown-ups.”
But it didn’t happen right away.
Cindy grew up, and while her mom stayed at the chocolate shop, Cindy eventually went to work for a construction company. She landed a great corporate job with steady income and was living life, until late 2008 when the economy slowed to a screeching halt. No one was building anything, so the construction company suffered. The next year, Cindy was laid off. “I came home crying and told my mom about it,” she said, saying, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do–I’m a single mother, I have my own house and car and I didn’t save for anything like this, I just don’t know what to do.’
At about the same time, Andrea was also laid off from the chocolate shop where she worked. The two of them consoled each other, as they both faced an uncertain future. A few days later, after taking some time to process everything, Cindy approached her mom with a question. She asked, “Why don’t we start again with your passion, with chocolate?” That way Andrea could finally make the recipes she had longed to make, and together they could build something with pride.
They agreed to it and went to work. Simple enough, right? “Easier said than done,” Cindy said with a big laugh. “We didn’t have any money! But doors just started opening up for us.”
Through some friends they met at a gallery event, they learned about a vacant space at 831 W. Davis St. They got in touch with the owner, who agreed to rent them the space for $400 per month if they were willing to come in, clean it up, and make it their own space.
Together, with their whole family this time, they went to work. “We took out layers and layers of dirt,” she said, “and even found a counter on craiglist. [sic]” Less than two months later, they were moving in and getting ready to open.
Then another door opened. They received a call from the owner of the chocolate shop where Andrea originally worked, who offered to give them all of the chocolate the shop had left. They could use it, the owner said, and pay it back later when they had the money. “With her giving us chocolate and packaging, we were able to open on November 1st, right before the holidays.”
Within a matter of months, she and her mom had decided to start a chocolate shop named CocoAndré Chocolatier, and were now on the brink of opening their doors. Cindy admitted she was worried when they first opened. “I’m always a worrier,” she said. “But my mom encouraged me by saying, ‘if we get in before the holidays, we’ll be fine’.”
And just like that, people began to show up. Suddenly, Andrea’s past customers were looking for her and discovered her in the new location. Over the next five years, people came in droves from all over Dallas to see and taste their chocolate. “[The business] is like a child,” Cindy said. “We were (and still are) building this business and we want other people to be proud of it in the same way we are.”
Five years later, their building was sold and new building owners stepped in. Cindy was excited about the new ownership and all of the businesses that had moved in around them. But when the owners said that they were planning to raise the rent so that it was comparable to the area, something sparked in the mind of Andrea. “She said, ‘nope, we won’t be here then, we’ll find somewhere else,’” said Cindy.
A little bit shocked at first, Cindy came to realize that they had helped make this street attractive to the city of Dallas, and that if they could do it there, they could do it somewhere else, too.
Their new location came by recommendation of a customer friend named Rosemary. She came in just two weeks after they had decided they would move and said, “I found the house for you.” Once again, a door opened and they made the move. “A lot of things just happen as soon as you put it out there,” she said with reflection.
This year CocoAndré is celebrating their 10th anniversary. Not only do they love their new location, but it is now serving a new role in the community. Today their house is used as a platform for small businesses and women who don’t have storefronts, especially people of color. “Our markets allow these neighbors to get some exposure, and it’s become an avenue for so many people,” she said.
One of the main ways this takes place each year is at CocoAndré’s annual ‘Dias de Los Muertos’ celebration. They started this event, in particular, because they noticed no one was celebrating together in the community. “There’s Cinco de Mayo, of course, but that’s not a real holiday that Mexican people celebrate,” she said, smiling. “We wanted to do something that has meaning.”
With the help of the city, they will be shutting down a portion of the street for the celebration.
It was clear talking with Cindy that she has an enormous amount of respect for her mom. “Yes, she learned to make chocolate with the first business she worked for,” she said. “But she’s an avid reader and is self-educated in so many ways. She’s learned everything from cacao trees, to creating a truffle, to even trying to roast her own coffee beans!”
I didn’t ask, but I’m sure this respect between mother and daughter is mutual. Together as a family, through thick and thin, they have stuck together and realized what’s most important with their business.
“The chocolate for us is everything. And if we become millionaires, great! But we never came from money so we don’t feel like we need a lot of it. My priority is this: That we can pay our employees the best wage possible and give them freedom to take a day off and tell them, ‘I can pay you for that.’”