Valentine’s Day is, unsurprisingly, a busy time for Suzanne Nader and Dalia Hidayat, the two women behind local chocolatier Craving for Chocolate.
A visit to the pair’s new Dunn Loring studio (2108-A Gallows Road) on Monday (Feb. 7) found them filling and packaging dozens of boxes with sweets for corporate orders tied to the romantic holiday.
The demand for chocolate doesn’t end with Feb. 14, though. For this boutique retailer, it spans every occasion from Christmas — the most hectic time of year — and Ramadan to anniversaries and graduations, according to Hidayat.
“Somebody’s celebrating something every day, so it’s such an amazing business to be in,” she said.
Distinguished by its use of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors, such as rosewater and mastic, Craving for Chocolate has seen an explosion in sales since the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to pivot from pop-ups to e-commerce.
Nader, a McLean resident and Lebanese immigrant, founded the chocolatier in 2015 out of a desire to address what she saw as a lack of variety in the market. It started small, primarily serving family and friends, but the client base grew through word-of-mouth.
That’s how Hidayat got involved. Introduced to Craving for Chocolate after receiving one of its boxes as a gift, she was impressed not just by the chocolate, which is made at a factory in Lebanon, but also by the acrylic container it came in, which was hand-carved by refugee artisans.
She called for a refill and was surprised to learn that Nader was working from home.
“I have a 30-year background in sales and marketing, so it’s second nature to me to refer and think of ideas,” Hidayat recalled. “I worked at the Ritz, and I knew that they had space to do a pop-up for her, so I just connected her as a friend.”
Over the next two years, that pop-up at the Ritz-Carlton Tysons led to a partnership with Nordstrom and appearances at Tysons Galleria, along with various local markets.
With the business growing, the women were contemplating a transition to a full mall store or a brick-and-mortar site when the pandemic hit in March 2020.
Pivoting instead to Nader’s basement, they built up the company’s website to support more online sales and put renewed emphasis on their use of custom-made gift boxes, trays, and other crafted items for packaging the chocolate.
“We sell chocolate, but we also always focus on what can be a nice gift,” Nader said. “What can go with it, like the tray? The tea? What can also add to this gift?”
While Craving for Chocolate has expanded its reach, now shipping nationwide, they were committed to staying in the Tysons area when looking for a permanent workshop, with the business outgrowing Nader’s home.
They considered finding another location in McLean, but the Gallows Road office seemed more accessible from the Tysons core, Nader says. It’s also about halfway between her house and where Hidayat lives in Vienna.
Craving for Chocolate moved in at the beginning of January, and both Nader and Hidayat say the new space has been “amazing” so far. The studio is open by appointment only from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Mondays through Saturdays.
“We like focusing on our clients and giving them that elevated service and one-on-one attention, and if you have more than two people here, it gets tough to do that,” Hidayat said. “They want to know what’s in the chocolates. They just want to spend time. That’s what we’ve noticed with our clients.”
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