The Littlest Chocolatier – Sunrise Beach, MO

  • Published: Monday, July 8, 2019

Joan Rutt and her husband, Kurt, owners of The Littlest Chocolatier in Sunrise Beach, Missouri, were initially unsure of what they were going to do with a building they had purchased.

"We bought the building first," explains Joan. "It took us two years to renovate it and at the time, we were thinking ‘What can we put in here?’"

The couple considered opening a shop that served sandwiches, but ultimately decided not to. Soon, Joan suggested turning her interest in chocolate-making into a business.

"I already made chocolates as a hobby and gave them to friends and family," she says. "And I thought, ‘Well, I could sell my chocolates here.’"

The building the Rutts had purchased, however, was too large to house just the chocolate shop. So, the couple decided that they would also sell coffee, to complement their candies. Additionally, they chose to offer retail items, like antiques, quilts, and candles.

However, the two admit that they did not know where to begin the process of starting their business. Kurt was self-employed and owned a company that specialized in flooring, but the couple was concerned about opening a chocolate shop when their experience was grounded in service-based businesses. They had plenty of questions and soon began seeking answers.

Later, the Rutts stumbled upon the Missouri Small Business Development Center (SBDC) hosted at State Fair Community College in Sedalia, Missouri. After a Google search and a quick phone call, the pair began meeting with SBDC Center Director, Kelly Asbury, in the fall of 2017.

Asbury assisted the Rutts in areas such as management, forming a business plan, and strategies for stocking inventory. She also connected the couple with other business owners who could offer them advice and guidance. The couple says that Asbury was their main motivator.

"We were kind of dragging our feet," admits Joan. "Kelly was the one who prompted us to set the date for our opening. If she hadn’t, we might still be waiting to open."

The couple agreed to open on October 31, 2018. With Asbury’s help, The Littlest Chocolatier was ready on time and has been supplying the lakeside area with gourmet sweets ever since.

Owning the chocolate shop has given Joan an opportunity to meet new people. She says that her interactions with customers are rewarding and one of her favorite parts of entrepreneurship.

"I’ve lived in Sunrise Beach for sixteen years," she says. "There’s only a population of about 400, but I’m still meeting new people! I really enjoy getting to know them and the tourists."

And since The Littlest Chocolatier is located on Lake of the Ozarks, the couple anticipates they will meet lots of tourists in the future, especially as their first summer approaches. They say that they have seen more customers each weekend since the weather began warming up. Now, they are preparing for an influx of chocolate-lovers and coffee-enthusiasts.

With The Littlest Chocolatier thriving, Joan concedes that the journey to this point was daunting. She says there were times when she was tempted to let the shop simply become a daydream. This experience now shapes her advice to potential business owners.

"Don’t give up, even if things are difficult," she advises. "There were times where I wanted to give up because I didn’t know how everything was going to work out, but I didn’t."

And Joan and Kurt are not planning on giving up any time soon. Looking to the future, the couple’s plans are focused on expansion. They say that they would like to incorporate their original vision of a sandwich shop into the business. Customers frequently ask if they serve other food items and the Rutts are entertaining the idea.