Just in time for Halloween, River Forest Chocolates opened its new location on Oct. 28. Moving a few blocks west to 7769 Lake St. enabled owner Donna Fantetti Slepicka to realize her dream of expanding her home-grown business and offer more of the artisan chocolates and specialized treats that have earned her a place in the community since 2011.
Fantetti Slepicka's business has always been rooted in the community. A River Forest resident, she enjoyed making artisanal candies in her home kitchen and then went to Triton College to hone her craft. After working with chocolatiers in Chicago, she opened her brick-and-mortar store on Lake Street in 2012.
She remembers those early days as a leap of faith.
"I was making caramels in my kitchen, a process which takes about two hours, when I accidentally flipped a tray onto the floor," she said. "I felt like it was time to be all in or all out into this as a career. A space down the street opened up, and I took the plunge thinking it would be a little retail and a lot of commercial work, but it ended up being more retail than I expected."
Today, she says her corporate sales are about 60 percent of her business, with clients requesting personalized chocolates with the logo of their businesses or events. She also gets a lot of specialized holiday orders from taffy apples to toffees and sea-salt caramels.
Much of her retail sales are to children or the young at heart.
"Kids love all the novelty stuff. I try to find things that are unique or new. I go to candy shows and see what's trending," Fantetti Slepicka said. "The adults are really into the retro candy they remember from their childhoods. I try hard to track down stuff people remember from growing up."
Fantetti Slepicka calls the move a way to take the plunge again and grow her space from roughly 650 square feet to 1,100 square feet. She worked with Forest Park's Yearbook Studios to help rebrand the store in the new space, and Yearbook's Jef Anderson also helped provide a few key pieces for the new retail operation.
Anderson said that Fantetti Slepicka purchased some items from Yearbook's former storefront, and they incorporated those into the retail space.
"During our closing, she bought a really distinctive 1800s dry goods table that is 10 feet long and a really distinctive black hutch," Anderson said. "They became store fixtures."
Noting that her new kitchen is a lot larger than her former work space, Fantetti Slepicka says she looks forward to opening up the space more to the community.
"Part of my original business plan was to offer classes," she said. "We're going to kick off the classes at Christmas time with gingerbread classes for adults and kids. Around Valentine's Day, we might do a truffle making class."
Fantetti Slepicka says there's no other place she'd want to do business.
"The three month build-out process was easy. I have to say, River Forest is a wonderful place to have a business. You have the support of the village and all the support of the residents," she said.
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