A Conversation with Zoe Tsoukatosowner and CEO, Zoe's Chocolate Co.
Zoe Tsoukatos, 35, grew up around the candy business, but her career took a different path in the Washington, D.C., area. She and her brothers returned to south central Pennsylvania in 2007 and started Zoe's Chocolate Co., which she serves as CEO.
The company also has a second storefront in Frederick, Md. In July, she and the company were featured in an episode of CNBC’s “The Profit.”
Tsoukatos has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in public policy and international development from American University in Washington, D.C.
She is single and resides in Waynesboro, Franklin County.
Q: Tell us how Zoe's Chocolate Co. came to be.
A: We started in 2007. We grew up in the family business, my great aunt and uncle came from Greece and they started a small pushcart business in Baltimore. Eventually they moved to Pennsylvania and built up a candy store where they made a lot of hand-rolled goodies. My dad came over from Greece; he learned the trade. He ultimately married my mother and we grew up in it. It was something we always loved and we loved being around, but it wasn’t necessarily something we thought we’d continue to do. We all went our separate ways, went to school, had our professions.
Then, in 2005, our dad got let go from his job. It was something he had done for over 35 years and it was something we grew up in, and we didn’t really want to see it end. So it was a great opportunity — at the same time, it was a difficult situation for him, but it became something to start up on our own with our dad. We kind of married the old world to fit today’s palate, something new and different, and we came up with Zoe’s Chocolate.
Did your appearance on “The Profit” affect the family dynamics at all?
No, not at all. We’re a very close family. We came back and we left our jobs in D.C. so we could help our dad. We’re very supportive of each other. I have amazing brothers who are my partners.
About the profit
In each one-hour episode of CNBC’s “The Profit,” serial entrepreneur and investor Marcus Lemonis makes an offer that’s impossible to refuse: his cash for a piece of the business and a percentage of the profits. And once inside these companies, he’ll do almost anything to save the business and make himself a profit; even if it means firing the president, promoting the secretary or doing the work himself.
Since “The Profit” first premiered, Marcus Lemonis, chairman and CEO of Camping World and Good Sam Enterprises, has invested more than $50 million of his own money in the companies featured on the series.
The episode featuring Zoe’s Chocolate Co. aired July 25. The family agreed to accept Lemonis’ offer of $200,000 for a 40 percent stake in the business. The episode also recounted how the company remodeled its Waynesboro storefront, created new branding and reached a handshake deal to provide chocolate to Norwegian Cruise Line, according to an online recap of the episode.
Aside from chocolate making, what business lessons did you and your brothers learn from your father?
Both our parents have raised us with a great work ethic and to have passion for what you do. I think that was our biggest thing when we came back. We really wanted to create a family with our business and to teach people something we’re passionate about. Using great ingredients, making interesting products, but really being passionate and working hard for something has been something they instilled in us. We were never given something; we always had to work for it.
Your father adds a very specialized skill to the company as master chocolatier. How do you prepare for his eventual retirement?
Our youngest brother, Petros, he is our head chef now. He’s been taking over a lot in the business. He pretty much leads the production, does the new flavors. Keeping up with new palates and new flavors and new trends is something we all like to do, and we all work together with him. Eventually (our father) will retire but he will always be part of this company; he has taught (Petros) everything he knows. Petros always liked to take classes, and any new techniques he’s always willing to learn about, so he is taking over a little bit.
What do you think other family-owned businesses can learn from your experience?
I think one of the things in family businesses is that everybody needs a role. Everybody needs to focus on their position and to enforce those positions. It’s always hard because they are your family and it’s hard to think differently of it. But once you get into that mindset that we do want to be bigger and better, it has to flow properly. For us, that was the big takeaway.
What is your favorite non-chocolate indulgence?
If it’s a sweet, I love apple pie. Otherwise it’s bread and cheese.