But in 2003, when they moved to Park Slope in Brooklyn and saw that rents were low enough to open their own business, they went for it.
“It took us 18 months to get open, because we really opened from the ground up,” Payson said. “It was a real grassroots effort to get us up and running, and it continues to be that as we expand and grow.”
When they signed a 10-year lease on their first location with landlord Armando Cruz, their rent was $1,200 per month. In 2007, Josepher and Payson approached Cruz and told him that the business was doing well, so they should probably be paying more rent for the space.
He had them name their own price, and thus the rent was raised to $1,900 per month.
The couple had an excellent relationship with Cruz, and even hired his three daughters at The Chocolate Room. So when he passed away and the rest of his family took over his properties, they had high hopes that they would have some wiggle room to negotiate when their lease ran out.
But that is not the case, and the Cruz family, “has asked a very high price that is not negotiable for us.”
“The going rate in this area is about $8,000,” said Josepher. “We expected it to be around that, and then hopefully within some negotiation we all could've worked through it together. When they said $11,000 or $12,000 at this table right here [pointing to a table], Jon and I, our heart's sunk.”
One of the main drivers of rent increase in the Park Slope area is the arrival of the Barclays Center, which has been a boon for the restaurant business. Josepher said her restaurant-owning friends have told her that their business had nearly doubled.
While The Chocolate Room hasn't yet seen an influx, Josepher said determinedly, “We're going to try and figure out how to make it so that we are. That's our job as business owners.”
Even before the Barclays Center moved in, The Chocolate Room had been doing well for itself, as evidenced by the opening of a second location on Court Street in Cobble Hill in 2008, and according to Josepher, if they weren't forced into focusing on relocation, they would be looking to open a third location somewhere in Brooklyn.
After opening two locations to date, Josepher and Payson estimate that the move to their new location at 51 Fifth Avenue will cost around $200,000, and while they are currently seeking funding from several traditional sources, they are also considering a somewhat alternative avenue after much urging from their customers and long-time supporters.
“We have a lot of friends that have done Kickstarter, and a lot of the community encouraged us to do Kickstarter to become a part of it,” said Josepher. “We really [thought] about the repercussions and ramifications and the vulnerability and exposure, and what does that do for our name and our brand and our business. In the end, a lot of our community said, 'let us help you,' and we thought, alright, let's do it.”
Since launching their Kickstarter campaign on October 26, The Chocolate Room has received $8,086 in pledges towards their $40,000 goal. The campaign will close on November 25, whether they reach their goal or not.
“If it works, great, if it doesn't work, we're going to find a way to open this store,” Josepher said. “We're talking to banks and we're talking loans [and] credit lines.”
Jessica Tuck, who lives just around the corner from The Chocolate Room, has been a fan of their confections and the friendly environment, “pretty much since it opened.”
For her, it is difficult to decide what her favorite Chocolate Room treat is.
“It would be a toss up between the chocolate cake and the chocolate cupcake,” said Tuck.
She's not alone in her love of the nine-layer chocolate cake made in-house at The Chocolate Room. O! Magazine, The New Yorker, The NewYork Times, and Zagat have all raved about it in the past, and this reporter can confirm that it is in a league all its own.
The doors will close on their 10-year home at 86 Fifth Avenue on January 31, and Josepher has high hopes that they will be able to have the new location open – which is nearly twice the size and comes complete with a spacious back patio – soon after.
“We don't want to miss Valentine's Day,” Josepher said. “Even if I have to do a makeshift something out front, even if the rest of the shop is waiting for inspections.”