Michele White is a lifelong artist who lives out her creative passion. She transitioned her career as an art teacher and into a self-taught business entrepreneur. Michele imported clothes and jewelry from Indonesia and sold them at her Satori Boutique, in Pagosa Springs. Michele sold the boutique after eight years, but continued to import items from Bali as she wondered about her next venture. On a day when she visited Santa Fe to sell her art and imports, Michele stopped into a chocolate shop. As a lover of chocolate and impressed with the chocolatier’s skill and artistry, Michele was inspired. She asked the owner if he would take her on as an apprentice. He agreed. Michele soon had a short-term apprenticeship. She learned the basics of making high quality chocolate, as well as gather resources and equipment a chocolatier would need to operate of her own. Michele located a vacant space in Pagosa Springs that would become the home to PS Chocolates, which soon opened in May 2016.
Right around this time, the Pagosa Chamber of Commerce posted an announcement that the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) was to offer their Leading Edge classes locally in the coming weeks. Michele registered. The Leading Edge program is designed for entrepreneurs who want to learn how to run their own business and teaches them how to develop a business plan. The class was taught by SBDC advisor Rich Lindblad. Michele said, “Rich is one of my angels and mentors.” She continued, “I am very right brained, the creative side. Rich helped me construct a business framework that I still use to this day whenever I’m not sure what needs to be done. I never wrote a business plan before. He understood my background and saw where I was coming from.”
Three years later and PS Chocolates well established, Michele met with Rich a second time. SBDC advisors came to Pagosa to offer free business consultations to the community. Michele arrived with thoughts and ideas to expand her offerings, consolidate debt and learn what she would be need to get a loan. “Rich is a great listener, and has a great memory. He remembered when we spoke in 2016 about my interest in a wine bar as part of the chocolate shop. Rich knew there were successful business models which paired chocolate and wine. We both agreed that was the way to go. With expanded offerings come the potential for increased income.”
Rich was also instrumental in helping Michele obtain a business loan through Region 9. “He literally held my hand as I filled out all the financial paperwork. He was so encouraging!” Michele was approved for a loan. Coincidently, there was a small hallway next to PS Chocolates that went unused for years. Mary had the idea of incorporating it into her plans as a bistro area. This would add two hundred square feet to the total floor plan. When renovations begun in August, it coincided with the busiest sales time of the year. Michele’s shop underwent construction as she kept the business open. “As an entrepreneur, one needs to be careful of what you wish for because the opportunity to expand came at a very busy time. I had to power through. That’s what you do when you are self-employed.” Michele was heavily invested in doing a large portion of the work herself. She refurbished chairs, attached legs to custom café tables her nephew built, constructed a bar top out of barn wood, and did plenty of painting. The expansion was completed in November. PS Chocolates now had more room and offered a bistro menu that included tapas, regional wines, desserts, organic teas and coffee.
Weeks before her reopening, a historic motel had their own opening. They offered a social gathering space and adult beverages in a funky bar with cool décor two blocks away. “It was a really neat spot, but now my enthusiasm waned and I went through some upheaval. I just did all this work and took out loans for my wine bar.” Michele wondered what she could do to bring customers in. She came up with the idea to host events in the bistro space. “I feel a good entrepreneur is a risk taker, be willing to go with the flow, and switch gears when unforeseen things arise.” From Thanksgiving through December, she planned and advertised wine tastings, wine and chocolate pairings and a Downton Abbey themed high tea party. Partnering with Feather Your Nest antique store, the bistro was transformed into a British tea room. Scones, finger sandwiches, and unlimited tea was served in antique teaware as servers were dressed in British maid costumes, coattails and white gloves. Every event filled the house. “This was a pairing of food and fun. This is what I want this place to be. What fuels my creativity is having fun.” This February there will be a series of painting and wine events titled Picasso & Vino, Chocolate and Wine pairings, a special Valentine’s Day event and continuing monthly High Tea.
Michele is forever grateful for Rich and the support provided by SBDC. “Gratitude is very important to me.” During the renovation she transformed a door by painting it with chalkboard paint. “I call it my gratitude door. At the top, I wrote ‘I am grateful to Rich Lindblad, SBDC and Region 9.’ Having worked with SBDC I feel like I am a part of something bigger, more than me and my little store. It is invaluable.”