Alumna uses MBS skills to run artisan chocolate business
MBS alumna Kim Dagher ’86 (MBA) realized a long-held dream in May 2011 when she opened Savour Chocolatier.
Five years later, Dagher has made a name for herself as the only handcrafted artisan chocolate maker in central Maine. Using the finest quality Belgian chocolate as well as naturally and locally sourced ingredients, she sells her unique, preservative-free, Maine-inspired confections in more than 15 shops in Maine. She also provides favor bags for 20–30 events annually, ranging from weddings to meetings, as well as concessions. Customers from across the country buy from her website.
A Wisconsin native who earned an undergraduate business degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dagher worked for many years at the University of Maine Office of Development. After taking time off to raise four children, she had an opportunity to proceed with her dream of owning a small business.
“I brainstormed many ideas, but ultimately, my love of fine chocolate, the lack of a quality product in the Bangor area, and a large potential market led me to pursue an artisan chocolate business,” she says.
Dagher completed professional chocolatier and chocolate business planning programs online through Ecole Chocolat. She then spent several months at the Barry Callebaut Chocolate Academy in St. Hyacinthe, Canada, where she completed a chocolatier master’s level program. A summer trip to Italy, France and Lebanon, where exceptional chocolates are abundant, inspired many of her product ideas.
Where do you make your chocolates?
I work out of a 700-square-foot efficiency apartment in the basement of my Veazie home. In addition to a full kitchen, my work space includes many pieces of equipment specific to chocolate and confection making. I make 27 varieties of truffles, brittles, toffees, taffy and other chocolate-covered treats in small batches to create the finest, freshest chocolates possible.
What are the rewards and challenges of running your business?
I truly enjoy every minute of my job. I’ve always enjoyed gourmet cooking, and working with chocolate allows me to be creative and take my cooking skills to the highest level. Most people don’t realize the science behind tempering chocolate and creating confections. It requires specific ingredients and environmental conditions to make high-quality products.
Creating a sought-after product is very rewarding. Working with local vendors has been an amazing experience. Perhaps most of all, I like working with customers to create the perfect chocolate favor for their event.
The long hours can be challenging. For example, the Christmas season is absolutely crazy and 50–60-hour work weeks are the norm. Giving local products is popular and of course, giving chocolates for the holiday has become a tradition. I feel honored that so many people choose my product at this time of year.
What is your best-selling product?
While there are many popular products, my best-selling one is the Dark Chocolate Maine Sea Salt Caramel. When I started the business five years ago, I sold 50 percent dark and 50 percent milk chocolate. Today, about 85 percent of all sales are dark chocolate.
Most of my recipes are from professional cookbooks, as selling products commercially requires they have a shelf life of at least eight weeks. For historic products like Needhams and Bangor Taffy, I use the original recipes, but several other products are made from recipes I created. When developing new products, members of my book club as well as friends and family taste-test for me. Sounds like a tough job, doesn’t it?
How did your MBA education help you start your business?
I used the skills I acquired through my MBA to prepare my business plan. My finance and accounting classes, a small business course, and my work as a graduate assistant came in handy as I figured out my business goals and plans for reaching them.
How do you continue to use your MBA education today?
Each day I use the skills I acquired at MBS in production planning, accounting, customer and vendor relations, inventory planning, finance and computer science.
How did you name your business?
I created several names and logos and presented them to friends and family. Savour Chocolatier, as in savour the difference, seemed to best convey the high-quality, unique product that I was bringing to the central Maine market. One of my daughters was taking a high school graphic design course at the time and helped create my logo.
What did you enjoy most about your time at MBS?
My MBS graduate experience took my undergraduate business education to a new level. I appreciated the personal attention and access to professors. Working as a graduate assistant was an amazing experience.
The MBA program had a wonderful mix of Maine and international students. We were a small group at the time, and I am still close with a number of my fellow students. We had a strong sense of wanting to learn from the varied backgrounds of those in our classes. Faculty were outstanding and accessible and worked hard to help each of us succeed.
Savour Chocolatier products are available in Bangor at Frank’s Bake Shop, Rebecca’s, Bangor Wine and Cheese Company and Eastern Maine Medical Center’s gift shop. They also are available at The Store Ampersand in Orono, Tiller & Rye in Brewer, John Edwards Market in Ellsworth, Winterport Winery in Winterport, several seasonal businesses around the state, and at savourchocolatier.com.