The Tempering Fire

Beloved east-side dessert shop Chocolaterian Cafe suffered a major fire in February and is relying on the goodwill of friends and supporters to help them survive.

 “Little good comes from phone calls before 6 a.m.”

The GoFundMe set up to support employees and owners of beloved neighborhood dessert shop, Chocolaterian Cafe, opens with that line. For anyone who’s experienced a sudden loss, the words ring all too true.

In the early morning hours of Sunday, February 25, the Schenk-Atwood institution suffered a major fire. Later deemed the result of an electrical failure in the historic building’s basement, the fire caused $750,000 total in damage and forced the closure of both the Chocolaterian and the showroom of Vault Interiors & Design on the first floor. Business offices on the second floor were also closed.

The fire worked its way up through walls and into the attic, where firefighters cut holes into the roof to allow access to fight the flames. Thankfully, no injuries were reported.

Leanne Cordisco, the founder of the cafe, and her new business partner Alex Aulisi, are faced with hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage and employees who suddenly lack work, among other headaches and heartbreaks.

Friend Meredith Westover sprang into action, setting up the GoFundMe to raise money to support the independent business during the recovery, but first and foremost to pay employees and help them get back on their feet. As of the time this issue went to print, the fundraiser had met just under half of its $50,000 goal (the fund is now closed), with the first payout going directly to cover payroll for the first month after the fire.

“We want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all the support you’ve shown us,” Leanne and Alex wrote in response to the support. “Knowing that our customers are so loyal and caring has really helped to keep our spirits up during this incredibly trying time.”

With the flagship Atwood location closed, the business has lost more than half of its retail income as well as the ability to generate wholesale and online income. The shop was the home to the kitchen where a variety of desserts and candies were made and packaged, including the Christine’s Gourmet Toffee line that helped make the operation famous.

According to the owners, the income from the Atwood location was helping cover the start-up costs of the Middleton cafe, too, which has only been open for 8 months but now has to carry the lion’s share in terms of keeping the business afloat. Happily, business at the second location has been brisk since the fire, with customers making the trek west to support the cafe. They’ve since added weekend brunch, as well as live music offerings every Saturday night at 7:00 p.m.

Leanne and Alex report some silver linings: They were able to keep five of the Atwood employees on board by bringing them to the Middleton shop. Further, they “found jobs or job opportunities for all of our other Atwood employees thanks to the generosity of so many local businesses. The Madison restaurant community is magical.”

There are other plans in the works, in addition to the fundraiser, to help increase revenue and allow the business to survive. “Some of you may have seen Alex’s note about finding places in the neighborhood to carry our products until we’re back up and running,” the owners note. “We’re also looking at implementing a subscription program, streamlining online ordering to increase internet sales, increasing our catering operation, and pursuing a couple of interesting leads for regional sales.”

Unfortunately, the decision was made not to reopen the space on Atwood even after renovations are complete. The fundraiser allowed the business to stay afloat at all in the immediate aftermath of the fire, and the focus will now turn to the Middleton location, as well as restarting the wholesale operation.

“At this point, we honestly don’t know whether or not we’ll be able to find and open a new east-side location,” a post to the cafe’s Facebook page notes, “but in order to ensure that our east side customers aren’t left high and dry, we are working with a number of east side businesses to carry some of our treats.” 

You can read more about Leanne’s story and the Chocolaterian in our May 2015 issue, at ourlivesmadison.com. In the meantime, make the trip to Middleton to enjoy the food and sweets of the second shop location. The friendly atmosphere, and yummy menu items we loved at the Atwood location are on offer there, with the addition of weekend brunch.

“We’d like to express our gratitude again for every single friend of Chocolaterian Cafe,” Leanne and Alex close in their message. “We are so overwhelmed by the outpouring of love. Thanks for all your support, good vibes, visits to Middleton, and hugs. We love you back.”

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