Artisan Chocolatier Finds Choc-Full of Resources Through 10KSB
Kristin Barnes of sweet bean turns hobby into business
Kristin Barnes has a knack for finding the sweet side of life. Just look at her hobby-turned-business, the artisanal chocolate store Sweet Bean.
Barnes found her passion in a chocolate-making class — offered by a local shop through Groupon — while living and working in Boston. Growing bored with her corporate marketing job, she found joy in her new hobby, which quickly grew into the beginnings of a side business.
After the Willowick native moved back to the area with her husband in 2012, she opened Sweet Bean in 2013.
"I never expected to be an entrepreneur," Barnes said. "This business began as a side hustle in my home kitchen — a hobby that has become a successful small business that employs three people and, hopefully, brings joy to many more."
Barnes, who runs Sweet Bean with her husband, Bob, started creating the filled chocolates at the Cleveland Culinary Launch & Kitchen (now Center Kitchen). They debuted at the Cleveland Flea and continued to work out of the rented kitchen space. Through the connections Barnes made at markets like Cleveland Flea, she brought Sweet Bean to the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses (10KSB) program at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C®).
"I was referred by an alumnus we met through the Cleveland market scene," she said. "Since beginning the program, I've learned that many of my market peers who I 'grew up' with have participated, and their businesses have flourished."
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Sweet Bean's primary customer base included events and the hospitality industry around Northeast Ohio. When the pandemic hit in 2020, Barnes was forced to rethink her business model during a lockdown. The result? Sweet Bean quickly grew its online store and created new products, like its candygrams, gifted boxes of Barnes’s hand-painted luxury chocolates sent or hand-delivered with notes from the gift giver.
Even in the midst of a pandemic, Sweet Bean was successful enough to open its first brick-and-mortar store in 2021 on Cleveland's east side. That was when Barnes pursued the 10KSB program.
"The most basic and best thing 10KSB did for me was take me out of my business so I could work on my business," Barnes said. "Through the program, I was able to review my staff, recognize their strengths and trust them to run my business. It also allowed us to organize and formalize our processes so we’re prepared for what comes next."
Sweet Bean shows no signs of slowing down.
"We plan to add three to four team members to Team Sweet Bean over the next two to three years," she said. "That'll double our staff."
Learn more on the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses website.
January 16, 2024
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