Cioccolato Lombardo Hits the Sweet Spot
Cioccolato Lombardo is the brain child and creative vision of chocolatier Tad Lombardo, one of the finest artisan chocolatiers in Melbourne.
Lombardo has worked closely with some of the most iconic names in Melbourne's food scene, including Ben Shewry and his team at Attica. In 2012, he was awarded a gold medal for boxed chocolates and the champion trophy at the prestigious Royal Melbourne Fine Food Awards.
Like most small business owners, Tad started off his business at home. Over the years, he was able to grow his business from a micro operation to a successful enterprise with additional staff.
Expanding a business is one of the most challenging yet rewarding aspects of being in business. We recently sat down with Tad and asked him all about how he took his passion for chocolate and turned into a successful business.
Tell us a bit about what inspired you to open your own chocolaterie in Melbourne
I opened Cioccolato Lombardo in 2010. It started out as a home based-business then grew to an artisan cart in the Prahran Market. Now I have a fixed shop and kitchen of my own. I decided to open the business after a 21-year successful career in engineering and risk management. I was becoming tired of the travel and the corporate world and wanted to express my creative side more. So I set the wheels in motion to make it happen.
The boutique chocolate market has grown a lot over the last few years. What sets Cioccolato Lombardo apart?
It certainly has. My products are my own recipes and designs that can’t be purchased anywhere else. I also have the added benefit of being a part of the Prahran Market where I can always get the freshest and best-quality local and seasonal products to use in my recipes. This makes a big difference with the end result; quality in equals quality out.
You've recently expanded your business and brought on extra staff. What's been the biggest challenge you've experienced so far?
I have brought on extra staff but as with any small business, things can change quickly. So initially these are casual staff members. The biggest challenge with any staff member is getting them to share your vision and inspiring them to uphold it. Another challenge is making sure cash flow is there to support wages. As in most small businesses, everyone else gets paid first even before I do.
What tips would you give to any small business people who are looking at expanding?
It’s important to be sure that the business can sustain the expansion over the long term and handle dips in cash flow. Over capitalising is another problem, but slow expansion is the best way forward: too big too quickly can lead to potential problems.
What unique challenges do luxury food retailers face in a competitive market like Melbourne?
Luxury food retailers have to educate their clientele so they understand why they are paying more for their products. People are willing to pay for quality but sometimes it’s not evident from just looking at a product why that product is unique.
Fast forwarding ten years: what would you like to see for Cioccolato Lombardo?
I would like to be able to step back a little bit and allow staff to run the business with my management and oversight. I’d like to remain involved in the operational side but I don’t want to be here every day. I would also like to see moderate expansion with another location and perhaps a an expanded café presence.
What are the some of the big trade exhibitions or networking events for fine food retailers that you never miss?
The truth is, I don’t attend those sorts of things; I find them expensive and it’s very difficult to recoup costs.
Finally, tell us about a typical day at Cioccolato Lombardo
My day starts at 7am tempering chocolate, although it does depend on the run sheet. I cast my chocolate moulds and make fillings; I assemble my chocolates and once crystallised, I package them up or display them in the chocolate cabinet. Depending on the day of the week, we also then bake our pastries. The shop and kitchen closes at 5pm; then we do it all over the next day, except Mondays and Wednesdays when the market is closed.
Update: following several successful years of trading at Prahran market, Tad Lombardo closed Cioccolato Lombardo in October 2017 to embark on a new change.