Purple Profile: Chocolate Cafe relocates to Evanston

Scott Brown, Reporter

Nine years ago, Marie Douailly opened a shop in Wilmette to share her lifelong love of Leonidas Belgian chocolates. Now, her Leonidas Cafe Chocolaterie has moved to Central Street in Evanston, where residents can experience the foreign sweets.

Growing up in the city of Lille in northern France, Douailly lived only an hour away from Brussels, where she went with her family to buy Leonidas chocolates. She moved to the United States when she was 23 but never forgot what she had left behind.

“Every time we went back to France, we would go to Brussels to buy chocolates,” Douailly said.

Douailly had taken time off after she had children, but when she went back to work, she decided she wanted to open her own business. Her husband purchased her first store in Wilmette for her birthday.

“He told me, ‘It’s better than buying the 20 pounds of chocolate you force me to buy every year in Brussels,’” Douailly said with a laugh.

Although she had worked as district manager for a French clothing retailer, Douailly did not have much business experience. However, she attributes her business sense to her mother, who had owned a successful cafe and restaurant in France.

The Wilmette shop, which started out only selling Leonidas chocolates, began to expand. Douailly said she soon realized chocolate was a seasonal product and customers wanted more options. First came the espresso machine. Then the store needed pastries. Soon, crepes, waffles and gelato were all part of the cafe menu.

After nine years in Wilmette, Douailly said she thought the store could no longer accommodate the growing business and decided to move to the new, larger location in Evanston, 1907 Central St. She said that although finding the new site was purely luck, she is very happy with the increased visibility and has seen business double since the store opened four weeks ago.

The biggest seller? Crepes.

“Even though we are not a crepe store, we have almost too much demand for them,” Douailly said. “We make them fresh as we go, so it is challenging to keep up, to say the least.”

Despite the difficulty of keeping up with the rush, Douailly said she works to make every customer feel special.

“We have a staff that will remember your name, ask you about your kids, your job. It is a small thing, but it makes a ton of difference,” she said.

And Douailly has not forgotten about her original loyal patrons.

“When we reopened and the Wilmette customers came back, it was almost like seeing your family again,” she said.

Douailly owns two other Leonidas cafes, one in Chicago and one in Northbrook, Ill. Her goal is to open two more in the Chicago area. But her vision for each new venue remains the same.

“I want to make it a place where people come and relax, have a good time,” Douailly said. “Everyone should have a smile. It’s ice cream, chocolate. It’s a happy place.”

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