Madelaine Partsioglou has been asked thousands of questions over the thirty years of her life but two of the easiest and most important ones were posed by her father, Christos.
The first was nine years ago when Madelaine was in the second year of her biomedical science degree. Christos, a chocolatier, mooted the idea of starting a family-run boutique café selling handcrafted artisan chocolates, specialty hot chocolate and premium coffee.
He sketched out the bare bones of his dream to his then 21-year-old daughter and ended his pitch with, “would you join me?” To Madelaine, the answer was obvious.
“It wasn’t so much a conscious, strategic career move than being given an opportunity that was too good to pass up,” she says. “It was yes, this seems logical and dad needs help so I’ll help him.”
Xocolatl (pronounced sho-ko-la-tl) opened its first store a few months later in Canterbury. It was during its first Christmas season there that Christos asked Madelaine the second question.
Having operated for only three months, the Partsioglou family of four – the other two being Madelaine’s mother Jenny and younger sister Tina – hadn’t anticipated the overwhelming demand for their chocolates, and the little cafe was soon running dangerously low on supply.
“Dad turned to us and said, we can either work until 3am to make sure we only run out on Christmas Eve or we can just give up right now and not worry about it,” Madelaine remembers. “It was a no-brainer.”
Xocolatl was the last store on the street to lock its doors that night, and it’s precisely that passion and commitment that has seen it unlocking those same doors every morning since then. One year later, the Partsioglous were opening a second set of doors in Kew East.
Both cafes bustle and hum with the chatter and laughter of regular customers who seek out a sweet bite for morning or evening tea, or a special gift from Xocolatl’s stunning creations. While both cafes are still considered hidden gems, those who have wandered into either one have lavished upon it the highest praise.
Madelaine remains humbled by the rave reviews but isn’t too surprised. After all this was exactly the outcome she expected from a business driven by family values and her father’s absolute trust in his daughters. What she’ll neglect to mention however are her own fingerprints on Xocolatl’s story.
It took several paraphrased questions for her to identify those prints but she finally nailed it down to these five:
When Christos asked Madelaine to partner with him it was because he didn’t have any retail experience whereas she had worked part-time in enough cafes to understand the inner running of one. That she had zero business knowledge or experience was a non-issue.
“My role was imperative because it was retail,” she says. “If I had said no, dad would have stuck to just distribution and wholesale. I had to help my dad. And I was excited!”
“I wasn’t worried about my lack of skills because I knew I could ask dad questions and he was very encouraging. And I took many short courses to upskill myself. But I still have to commend dad for trusting me enough to let me make so many of my own decisions for the business.”
Christos may have had his daughter’s back but that didn’t stop her being plagued by self-doubt, anxiety over small decisions and the occasional reluctance to defer to him. Madelaine wryly acknowledged that she and Christos are alike which meant there was always a slight contention when deciding how to get to where they wanted to be.
“For instance, I would want to go through a gradual process but he would say that there was no need for all that,” she says. “And as much as I wanted to stand my ground, I had to trust that his experience would get us there faster.”
Did that mean they also struggled to flesh out a business plan? Madelaine grins sheepishly. It turns out there was no business plan then and there still isn’t one now.
“There are four of us who care so much about Xocolatl that we are essentially the business plan,” she chuckles. “Everything is in our heads, we know what we want to achieve and it comes through discussions not by writing a list.”
“If you don’t have a business plan, then you fall back on your goals. But this isn’t for everyone so I’d say definitely write your own business plan!”