Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Mike Zwiefelhofer, Founder of Z. Cioccolato, located in San Francisco, CA, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

Z. Cioccolato is a Chocolate and Gourmet Fudge shop in the heart of San Francisco. We specialize in multi-layered fudge flavors, and we are home to our famous 7-Layer Peanut Butter Pie Fudge. Our customers love how many different flavors we have, and we strive to invent one or more new flavors every single month. Our retail shop services both locals and tourists alike, and our online store focuses on fudge lovers from 40-70 years old located anywhere in the U.S.

Tell us about yourself

I've been in retail my entire life since starting as a Box Boy at age 14 in my grandfather's department store. I've been in the sweets industry for the last 15 years, starting with a Frozen Yogurt shop before moving on to chocolate with Z. Cioccolato. At our shop, our customers always come first, and we strive to give the best customer service possible making our customers happy is what drives us each day. There is nothing we love more than receiving a positive review or kind words from our customers.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

During the pandemic, we were able to pivot in two different ways that transformed and changed our whole business model. First, we were able to move our in-person chocolate-making classes online to Zoom, and they continue to be a huge success. We have now conducted over 1,000 virtual classes with over 17K participants. In addition to the classes, near the beginning of the pandemic, I took a 6-month course on how to create Facebook & Instagram ads which have fueled a very robust online presence, and we are now shipping more fudge around the country than we sell in our retail shop. We went into the pandemic as a retail store and came out as a retail store, cooking school, and an E-Commerce company, and we have now tripled our net sales.

What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?

One of the hardest things is actually being profitable while growing. It's much easier to increase sales, but that doesn't always lead to more profit. It's very challenging to invest in growing our company but also staying lean and being a very profitable company.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Think of your customers as your community of ambassadors. Every time you come in contact with your customer in any way, you have an opportunity to make them a loyal customers for life, don't waste your chance.
  2. Pay yourself first. It's very easy to pay all of your bills and then pay yourself with whatever is left over, but oftentimes there's not much, if any, money left for yourself. Either put yourself on the payroll with a salary or set up auto transfers before you pay the rest of the bills.
  3. Treat your employees like gold. Create a fun work environment that makes them want to work for you and makes them want to help you achieve your goal. Look for the little things that will make your team happy that may not cost much money. When you are successful, give them bonuses so they can share in the success.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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