I’ll confess: Before last year, I had never heard of Brett Roy or Sweet Lollapalooza, his chocolate shop in Edmonton. But then the International Chocolate Awards rolled around, and he won a Canadian silver medal for his Pure Nacional confection, and a nomination for his raspberry noir. I travelled to London to judge in the world finals, and couldn’t have been more proud when both of those pieces won silver medals—ranking among the best of the entries from Europe, America and Japan.
Post-win, I chatted with Brett about chocolate, Australia and the unexpected delights of 5am phone calls.
How did you find out that you had won two silver medals in the world finals of the International Chocolate Awards?
It was Sunday night here [in Edmonton] and the phone kept ringing. I picked up at 5 am and I didn’t want to pick it up—it’s either good news or bad news at that time of the day. It was my parents in Australia. They already knew about it through the Internet. That was a nice way to wake up.
Besides make award-winning confections, what does Sweet Lollapalooza do?
We do caramels—butter caramels, salted butter caramels, raspberry caramels, passionfruit caramels…sometimes the flavours will change. We did a white peach caramel, and a lime and licorice caramel. But that’s seasonal. We also do chocolate chip cookies that we dip, and we do a milk chocolate toasted coconut dip. And we do a buttercrunch which is like an English toffee, covered with milk chocolate and toasted almonds. We have some chocolate bars, hot chocolate…quite a few different things.
We’re in the heart of the financial district and we’re in one of the two towers. They’re about 40 stories high so we have a lot of professional clientele. It’s a good spot. We’re opening a new location in Calgary, opposite where Holt’s is downtown. It’s a really good location.
How did you come to chocolate?
I’m from Queensland [in Australia] and I started an apprenticeship with the Conrad hotel chain, the flagship company of the Hilton. And then I worked in all different hotel chains, like the Ritz-Carlton. I worked on a private island on the Great Barrier Reef, 400 nautical miles off Cairns, for a private airline. I worked all over the place for about 22 years.
I ended up as a corporate chef, running a chain of restaurants in Toronto. I went to New York City to check out restaurants. I would go once a year to see what was going on. It was 2000, 2001 and I just noticed all these chocolate boutiques in Manhattan. MarieBelle, La Maison du Chocolat, a couple others.
And what brought you to Edmonton?
I’ve always loved working with chocolate and a few years later, my wife and I wanted to grow our family and we couldn’t afford to buy a house in the GTA [Greater Toronto Area] unless we wanted a 3-hour commute. My wife’s family is from Edmonton, and we moved out here so we could grow our family and be able to buy a home. So when I came out here I knew I wouldn’t be able to get the same sort of salary as I was getting before, working in Toronto, so I started to pursue my passion in chocolate. [My wife] Kirsten went off and did a course at Callebaut in St. Hyacinth, Quebec, and I did a couple of courses at the French Pastry School [in Chicago]. We visited chocolate boutiques throughout America, France, Italy, and decided to do some research by doing farmers’ markets in Edmonton. That’s what jump-started us to open our first location in 2009. And we haven’t looked back.
What’s the best part of your job?
Just starting every day. I love to turn on my enrobing machine and smell the aroma that fills the store and the lab. I love that.
What’s your biggest challenge?
Staffing. It’s very hard to get staff; I do most of it myself. It’s touch and it’s very labour-intensive, but I enjoy it. In this part of the country [Edmonton] it’s hard to find qualified staff. For our expansion into Calgary, I’ve already got four people lined up to work for me. It’s like night and day.
What do you do when you’re not making chocolate?
You know what, it’s just my wife and my kids. We’re a food family and we go out and wine and dine quite a bit, so that’s our hobby.