On Queen Street East in Toronto’s Beach district, The Belgian Chocolate Shop opened its doors and welcomed its first customers on December 15, 1984. The world was a different place then, before the sweeping changes that would come with the advent of the internet, e-commerce, and global brands.
The story of the Belgian Chocolate Shop is a tale of childhood playmates and neighbours, Eric Smets and Patricia Cohrs, with the added embellishment of chocolate. As young adults, love eventually blossomed between Eric and Patricia, leading them to marry in Brussels, Belgium. With dreams of establishing a small artisanal chocolaterie, they emigrated to Canada in 1984. What was once a dream is now a long established reality; a shop devoted to creating artisan quality Belgian chocolates, incorporating all the traditions and expertise of their native Belgium.
Despite the untimely death of co-founder Eric Smets in 2007, the shop has continued to thrive in the same location, at the east end of the famous Beaches boardwalk. Hiring a diverse group of newcomers to Canada with fluency in both French and English, they have joyfully provided opportunities and given back to their adoptive homeland for 35 years.
“We truly cherish our customers, and have a unique bond with them,” says co-founder Patricia Cohrs. “Traditional, boutique shops like ours provide a unique experience in a tight knit neighbourhood. You interact directly with the makers. We’ve become close friends with customers over many years, and now their grown children come in on their own, for which we are immensely proud.”
Ingredients are ethically sourced, and every chocolate is made on the premises, painstakingly, by hand, to ensure the utmost in quality, freshness and consistency.
“A long-time patron told me that our chocolates saved his marriage!” says Patricia. “Many others of all ages have mentioned that they cannot remember what Christmas or Easter were like before we came along. That is always profoundly moving to learn, and to know what an impact our work of love has on people, and how traditions can be the cement of generations of families. They appreciate the continuity and authenticity of our product, as well as the warm and friendly boutique experience, all of which they perceive to be reassuring in an otherwise fast-changing world. And, frankly, we feel the same way about them!”