We stumbled upon Socola Chocolatiers last month when searching for a birthday gift to send my sister Niki, of La Pham Nikita. We were immediately intrigued with Susan and Wendy Lieu, the dynamic sisters behind the Oakland based business and ordered a dozen. Needless to say, my sister loved them and in the following weeks of email correspondence as well as a telephone interview with Susan, we found out more about their story and the success behind Socola.
photo courtesy of Kitchen M
Just like our families, Susan and Wendy’s parents were boat people, escaping from their village of My Xuyen in the Mekong delta of Vietnam in 1981 following the Vietnam war. Their father’s first job was delivering newspapers–mine was a janitor, cleaning toilets. Their mom was a seamstress, mine a meatwrapper. But blossoming out of their parents sacrifices, Wendy went on to UC Davis to earn a degree in managerial economics while Susan went to Harvard to study sociology. Growing up speaking only Vietnamese in the house and eating/making primarily traditional Vietnamese foods (one of their favorites is ca kho to), the sisters began experimenting with “American” foods as teenagers, and what started out as a hobby of making chocolate truffles for holiday gifts 8 years ago has blossomed into an award winning business and thriving passion.
The sisters come from a long line of dessert makers–to this day, their relatives in Vietnam still sell traditional Vietnamese desserts in the local village market. While this provides a honest living in Vietnam–and perhaps could be a source of family pride that Susan and Wendy are continuing here in America, it’s hard for some in the Lieu family to imagine these well educated, independent, and industrious young ladies–who can probably be whatever they want to be ( i.e. the stereotypical doctor/lawyer/engineer/dentist/pharmacist that most Vietnamese parents encourage) are also making sweets in America similar to their relatives in Vietnam. Although this is slowly changing, as Susan puts it, “perhaps there’s a generational difference” in how they view success. Perhaps this skepticism maybe appropriate at first when they started out selling as a hobby at their local farmers market, but today, it’s hard to argue with their passion and new found success as you can find their delicious creations at Whole Foods in northern California, Bi-Rite Market, SF, Alameda Natural Grocery, and of course online and perhaps a chocolate and dessert shop next year.
Primarily self taught, but using their cultural heritage as well as extensive travels throughout the world, the sisters create unique and “delicately daring” flavors of artisan truffles. We thoroughly enjoyed their signature selection of Burnt Baby Burnt, Give it to me Guava, Vietnamese Coffee, and Guinness with a bottle of champagne on the beaches of Carmel this past weekend. My favorite was the Give it to me Guava–the fruity and fragrant guave pate was great with the slightly bitter 72% ganache. Kim is a Vietnamese Coffee fiend so it was a no brainer that her favorite was Vietnamese coffee made with condensed milk and French chicory grounds.
photo courtesy of Kitchen M
What started out as a hobby has now become a dream as well as an identity for the Lieu sisters. Truly, a unique Vietnamese-American dream and identity that’s built from their labor of love to make the best chocolates and bring happiness to those who enjoy them.
Luckily for our readers, Susan and Wendy have generously provided a box of their signature selection. Socola has truly unique flavor combinations so check out their site. But to win, please leave a comment along with an email and state what flavor combination you might suggest to Wendy and Susan by Thursday Nov. 19 midnight pacific time for a chance to win. We’ll use a random number generator and send it to you priority mail [many apologies to our international readers–but due to the perishable nature of the chocolates, only US entries please]
But don’t fret if your number isn’t chosen, you can still enjoy a 20% discount off their special holiday selection, ordered before Dec. 10th with the code: BEARONRUG