Business

Charlie planning move for longtime chocolate shop

Charlie Sigvardsen shows off the hot chocolate sticks longtime employee Alice Liew is preparing behind him at Charlie’s Chocolate Factory on Canada Way. The company has just signed a five-year lease with the building’s new owners, and hopes to eventually relocate to a new, expanded location elsewhere in Burnaby where customers can better watch the chocolate production process. - Wanda Chow/NewsLeader
Charlie Sigvardsen shows off the hot chocolate sticks longtime employee Alice Liew is preparing behind him at Charlie’s Chocolate Factory on Canada Way. The company has just signed a five-year lease with the building’s new owners, and hopes to eventually relocate to a new, expanded location elsewhere in Burnaby where customers can better watch the chocolate production process.
— image credit: Wanda Chow/NewsLeader

Charlie Sigvardsen has long known a move is inevitable for his chocolate shop, a fixture on Canada Way for over 40 years.

Now he can start planning for it.

Since 1970, Sigvardsen's Charlie's Chocolate Factory has been located on the same block near Boundary Road. Over the years it moved next door then slowly expanded until it now occupies the entire building at 3746 Canada Way.

Sigvardsen said for years he tried to buy the property from the previous owner to no avail. He had a right of first refusal in his lease, and when the time came, he had an appraisal done and offered $2 million.

But the current owner offered $3 million, a figure that made sense for a developer but not for his family chocolate shop, Sigvardsen said.

Then came a couple years of uncertainty, during which Sigvardsen's lease ran out and last spring, the owner went to court in an unsuccessful attempt to evict him. The two sides then decided to try and work it out without lawyers and they signed a new five-year lease last month.

"It was a big relief, I was going through some challenging times," said Sigvardsen on Friday.

Now the family can focus on the future, one that involves a move to a larger space, possibly in the Big Bend light industrial area of South Burnaby.

They'll need to find a building, or have one built, where they could accommodate increased numbers of tour groups and buses who would come to watch the company's chocolate production process from behind glass. It could also bring its Burnaby and Port Coquitlam locations, the latter where his son Blair produces chocolate moulds, all under one roof. The company employs 20 people, including four members of the Sigvardsen family.

Sigvardsen expects they'll need about 20,000 square feet, compared to its current space of about 8,000 square feet.

At age 84, Sigvardsen readily admits he might not be around when they're finally ready to make the move. But he's quick to note that his two sons and co-owners, Colin and Blair, will carry on the family business, along with Colin's daughter Ellen.

The move and expansion will just be another step in his shop's evolution, he stressed, explaining that businesses need to change over time if they want to stay in business.

He cited his company's purchase years ago of a manufacturer of chocolate moulds as one example. They started custom making moulds to produce chocolates with company logos on them. That corporate business became so popular it now makes up 20 to 30 per cent of their sales.

"If you don't go forward you go backwards."

As for Sigvardsen, he still puts in several hours a day at the shop before retreating to his garden at his Burnaby Mountain home. Does he ever plan to retire?

"No. I don't recognize the word," he said without missing a beat. "You never work a day in your life if you enjoy what you do."

wchow@burnabynewsleader.com

twitter.com/WandaChow

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