Name: Cindy Zakalik
Business: Chocolate Promises
Location: Merrick, New York, U.S.
Industry: Food & Beverage
Reason for starting? I had a successful career as an account executive selling online advertising for companies including AOL. I worked 24/7 and made a lot of money for other companies. I said, “If I can make all this money for others, why can’t I do it for myself?” I also wanted to do something I loved, not just have a job. I searched the internet and found this patented chocolate printer. It was perfect for me because it combines my two favorite things: technology and chocolate. I started Chocolate Promises in 2012. My daughter, Melissa, worked with me while I still worked my full time job. I don’t make the chocolate, I buy it from my supplier, then I print on it. After only a few months in business, Hurricane Sandy struck and my supplier was shut down for several months so I couldn’t get chocolate. After 1 ½ years in business, I left my job to run Chocolate Promises full time. Then my mom, Eileen, joined the team. For the next year, three generations worked side by side to build this business.
How do you define success? My definition of success is loving my job and making customers happy while making enough money to live comfortably and donate chocolates to many organizations to put smiles on lots of faces.
My goal is to grow my business by helping other businesses grow. Our custom printed chocolates with company logos are a solution to the problem of how to make a company more memorable. For example, chocolate logo-coins are used as trade show giveaways, in meetings, etc. by Fortune 500 companies to small businesses to help them stand out above the crowd so that customers and prospects remember them. People eating their delicious logo is a sweet, memorable experience which helps with their brand awareness and helps their business grow, then they will buy more chocolates.
Biggest success: My biggest success is the number of New York government agencies and public and private companies that I’ve gained as customers by being a New York State and New York City Certified Women-Owned Business Enterprise (WBE) for the past three years. I attend many government events geared towards helping Minority and Women Owned Businesses do business with government, which gives me the opportunity to meet decision makers and influencers for those agencies and many large companies that also attend those events.
What is your top challenge and how you have addressed it? My top challenge is that there is not enough time in the day to do everything, and I haven’t gotten the work-life balance thing in order yet, so I’m still working late at night (it’s now 1:14 a.m.). My daughter, who helped me start this business went back to continue her teaching career, but still helps when I need it. My mom helps with packaging, inputting data, bookkeeping and more which saves me lots of time. This is my third career but the first that I actually love, so I’m good with working 24/7. As business increases I’ll be able to hire people, automate and integrate processes to help more with my time challenges.
Last year my mother-in-law was very sick and I spent several days a week for several months at her bedside in the hospital and in a nursing home as my family took turns being with her so that she would not be alone much. I filled all of my chocolate orders, but also decided that it was more important to be with her so she was more comfortable in her final months than it was to make sales calls, so my business suffered. She was a wonderful woman who had a difficult life, put everyone else first, was wonderful to me and deserved the very best, so I am happy with the decision I made.
Who is your most important role model? My most important role model is my mom who is retired but is also the most focused and hardest worker I know. She teaches me that it is ok to make mistakes, you just move on, and not to dwell if something is not perfect. She helps me out whenever I need it, even if it means canceling her Mah Jongg games to help me exhibit at showcases. She loves me unconditionally, supports my decisions and is a wonderful grandmother to my children.
Edited by The Story Exchange