A trip inside the bonbon factory

An old diner we converted into a bonbon factory - and a home - has defined how we run our business, and our lives.

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Pascal Siegler and Charlene Dupray show off their wares at the renovated luncheonette they call home - and office.
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WILMINGTON, NC (FORTUNE Small Business) -- When I first saw this old diner, I knew it would be integral to the business I would create with my husband, Pascal Siegler - and to our home. We'd seen many traditional commercial spaces, and none of them suited us. But this salmon-pink concrete building was perfect. With its original features, including diner stools and large steel sinks, the 39- by 19-foot main room was just the kind of space we needed.

Our business, South'n France, is making chocolate bonbons. When we're in factory mode, our ten-foot-long farmhouse table is covered in heavy-grade plastic to make it easier to sanitize, and the space becomes a production line where Pascal makes 500 bonbons a day to store in our freezers, which hold up to 20,000. Later the table is used as a packing center from which we ship our six varieties of bonbons all over the country.

We also host events, from birthday parties to corporate functions, to demonstrate the six-step production process and to get people making and tasting our bonbons. During the holiday season we host a party most nights of the week, and for that the setup changes completely. The wooden table is uncovered; we bring flowers in and put seating areas around the room to give it a homier feel.

With 13-foot ceilings and a concrete floor, the building had an industrial feel that was hard to overcome. Of the $20,000 we've spent on renovation, the best investment was the plastering technique that's given the walls a textured and yellowing quality, reminiscent of old houses in southern France.

Visitors are often so curious about this unusual building that we've incorporated a home tour into our parties. In the past year we've had 1,200 people walk through our bedroom and bathrooms. One of the biggest challenges is hiding all traces of the business, especially the reams of paperwork I work on in the office.

In our first year of business, 2006, our annual revenues were $34,000, but we grossed more than twice that in 2007. With that kind of growth, we might soon have to move the business out of this building. But we love it so much that we're considering adding another story, or buying nearby residences, because this old luncheonette really is a workhorse for us.

- As told to Malika Zouhali-Worrall To top of page

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