Sweetening Santa Barbara

Jean-Michel and Jill-Marie Carrè have leased an 830-square-foot storefront in the La Arcada Courtyard at 1114 State St. “We hope to be open by Easter,” said Mrs. Carrè who added that the Carpinteria shop, which launched in November 2007 at 4193 Carpinteria Ave., Suite 4, will continue to remain open, serving local clientele as well as wholesale customers throughout the South Coast.

“It’s an out-of-the-way space, but 70 percent of the trade is walk in,” said Mrs. Carrè , adding the couple hopes to meet with a similar positive reaction in Santa Barbara for their artisan chocolates.

“We were fortunate to find such a nice space in La Arcada, one of Santa Barbara’s premier shopping areas,” said Mrs. Carrè.

Jill-Marie runs the business and Jean-Michel dedicates his days to making edible works of art. “I’m the official bowl licker,” said Mrs. Carrè with a laugh.

The gourmet chocolatier will offer many of the same premium chocolates that are available at the Carpinteria store, as well as new product introductions, hinted Mrs. Carrè. The creative flavors, she said, came from operating a restaurant in France for 14 years. The Carrès ran an eatery called Restaurant du Calibressan, a tribute to Jill-Marie’s California roots and Jean-Michel’s as a native of the Bressan region. Some of chocolates are inspired by the flavor profiles he used to create for fish and meat dishes, and have hints of curry and coconut, Szechwan pepper, lime and orange.

“Jean-Michel started training as a chef du cuisine starting at age 15,” said Jill-Marie. “He comes from a farm family of six children — two boys and four girls. Both boys went into the restaurant trade,” she added. After selling the restaurant in France, Jean-Michel went back to his cooking school alma mater, L’Ecole Lenotre-Paris, for a brush up course in chocolate making.

Even in the recent down economy, published reports indicate that consumer demand for chocolate candy continues to grow. The question of why there is no meltdown in the chocolate business may be more a matter of psychology than economics. “There is well-documented evidence that in times of anxiety and uncertainty, when people need a boost, they turn to chocolate,” said Ms. Carrè. “That’s why when the economy is bad, chocolate is still selling well.”

Indeed, Packaged Facts, a food research organization, forecasts that the U.S. chocolate market will increase an average of 3 percent annually through 2015.

A local commercial real estate salesman predicts the store will be popular with locals and tourists alike.

“Chocolats du Calibressan is a unique and fun store that will be a great addition to the cozy and cultured shopping atmosphere of La Arcada,” said Kristopher Roth of Hayes Commercial Group,which represented the business owners in the transaction. “I think both parties will profit from the relationship.”

With the transaction, La Arcada is now fully leased. Hayes Commercial represented tenants in three leases in the past six months.

“It’s no surprise that La Arcada has filled up in recent months,” Mr. Roth said. “La Arcada offers an attractive and vibrant setting for local retailers who want a great downtown location near the Santa Barbara arts and entertainment district.”

The Carrès said the store will be targeting all levels of customers who want to allow themselves the occasional indulgence, adding that chocolate is a relatively inexpensive one for those with a sweet tooth.

And chocolate isn’t only to eat; customers may be able to drink, it too, said Mrs. Carrè, who envisions brewing up hot European drinking chocolate at a future date. Chocolate-infused soaps, T-shirts and other items with chocolate themes — or ingredients — also will be for sale.

Clearly, most of the action will be at the candy case. “People will be able to come in and create gift boxes of any size — or just buy one chocolate, relax on a bench and watch the world go by,” said Jill-Marie.

She hopes the shop will be part of the regular shopping route of locals who frequent nearby bakers, cheesemakers and wine shops.