How Bella Sophia Chocolates Became One of the Lifelines of the Huntington Beach Family – Orange County Register
When Steph and JD Shafer met at a high school party, they were in their late teens and their friends were quick to tell them that this romance might not be forever. .
But here they are, about to turn 50, married for 32 years, with a 15-year-old daughter named Isabella. They named Bella Sophia Chocolates after her and it’s a family business that’s more than a passion. Because when the pandemic hit and the Shafers found themselves out of work, it became a lifeline.
Steph’s family is Native American of Cherokee ancestry. She grew up in La Habra, traveled internationally as a sports massage therapist to Olympic athletes, and lives in Huntington because she loves to surf. JD who grew up in Laguna Beach, worked in finance for 23 years and was vice-principal at the private school in Costa Mesa attended by his daughter.
Life was good. Until the day of 2020, Steph went home early after all of her clients canceled their appointments.
“With the Olympics, we’re all very careful that we never catch a cold because it puts the whole team at risk. … I was sitting at home thinking, ‘Is everyone sick? ‘ Why are they cancelling?” Then JD and Isabella walked through the door. ” ‘What are you doing here ?’ He said, ‘Put the news. There’s something going on.’…And it was so quick that we were both out of work,” she said.
“Holidays. We were sent home for about two months,” JD Shafer said of his job. “And then after that, as everything is based on schooling, a lot of families withdrew. Everything was virtual. In September, he was fired.
“As a mum, I went into total panic mode thinking, ‘How am I going to feed her?’ says Steph Shafer. She decided to take a quiet moment to come up with a quick strategy to support her family. Chocolate to the rescue.
The Shafers had been making bon bon and candy since 2016. Steph decided they should double down and JD agreed. She jumped on social media to sell them, knowing that several of her neighbors were in the same boat. Stuck at home. Very worried. Desperate for groceries. Anti-stress treats seemed like an ideal product.
“I looked at Instagram for an hour, then I went back and tagged ‘woman-owned business’, ‘local support’, ‘local shop‘. And then my phone was like, Ding! Ding! Ding!”
It has set up a system allowing customers to order online. They would drive past his apartment so JD Shafer could deliver chocolates to their cars.
“We relied on our local community, whoever wanted to come, and they came for 18 months,” Steph Shafer said. “We’ve grown our business by about 400% during the pandemic.”
On September 30, she opened a shop in Pacific City selling candy, truffles, hand-dipped dried fruit, chocolate lollipops, fruit pate and other treats that she and JD make in a kitchen rented in an industrial area of Huntington Beach where they work late at night to avoid the heat and humidity. They typically start at 11 p.m. and spend hours making thousands of chocolates to fill online orders and sell them at the boutique, where customers can purchase an extravagant Valentine’s Day heart-shaped box for $70 or just a few pieces priced at $2 to $4.95 each.
Steph Shafer paints and she is very artistic. The same goes for its chocolates, which come in vibrant colors and shapes: plain chocolates in the shape of surfboards or flip-flops; sea salt caramel chocolates molded like tiki totems; pink strawberry candies and white chocolate ganache with a candied berry inside; multicolored treats in the shape of hearts and others in robin’s egg blue, mint green or royal purple.
She even sculpts some of them to look like designer high heels. They’re so chic you’d never guess she’s not a trained chef and has never taken a chocolate class. She learned it all online by researching and then contacting chocolatiers around the world to hone her techniques.
She sent direct messages to the chefs on Instagram and they replied to her, some in French, which she had to translate by Google. “Then I would go on Zoom and talk to them live and say, ‘OK, show me how to make this product right there. I had to learn to be awake during their hours which for us were between midnight and 2 am. So I was very tired some of those days, but really wanted to know how they make silky smooth, creamy tasting chocolate.
She learned how to properly clean chocolate molds so candies are shiny, how to make toppings from scratch, and how to make chocolate from beans she buys in Africa, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, in the Dominican Republic and other countries. Bella Sophia is a bean-to-bar chocolate shop. It also offers confections like caramels and marshmallows.
Steph Shafer’s fearless and dynamic attitude is the catalyst for this small business. With the help of JD, who also knows all the chocolate making techniques, and his daughter Isabella, who designs much of the packaging, this family business has taken a big step forward.
Bella Sophia now has a corporate relationship with Knob Creek Bourbon and has been included in Oscar goodie bags and the Emmys giveaway show. Self-taught Steph Shafer rubbed shoulders with legendary chef Jacques Pépin. The Shafers have also won awards from TasteTV and the International Chocolate Salon.
They ship nationwide and will soon have a glass room in their 700 square foot store, which once housed Petals and Pop, so customers can see Steph Shafer making chocolate. JD Shafer will be by his side at the store. With her creativity and business background, they make the perfect pair at home and at work.
It was pretty much love at first sight they say.
“Being so young, all the neighbors were like ‘Stephanie, get out a lot. There’s so many people there. I said, ‘I found this one. I’ve never had a date before JD was my very first boyfriend.
Ask JD what he first noticed about Steph and it wasn’t just her looks, but that combination of her spark, fearless ambition and bubbly demeanor – all qualities that helped to make Bella Sophia such a success.
“Her eyes, her hair,” he said looking at her as he remembered that high school party. “And yeah, I’m just thinking about his personality.”
Find it: Lot 579 at Pacific City, 21058 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach, 714-906-9011, bellasophiachocolates.com.
Open: 12pm-7pm Tuesday to Friday; 11am-7pm Saturday; 11am-6pm Sunday. Closed on Mondays.