Fresh from winning 17 awards in a prestigious international chocolate competition, Syovata "Vata" Edari, has opened a bigger, more glamorous CocoVaa Chocolatier shop in the new Marling Building on East Washington Avenue, just west of First Street.
The chocolatier, who makes elaborate, handcrafted chocolates, started out with a small retail shop and production facility at 1 Sherman Terrace, in a low-profile small strip center on Madison's Near East Side.
She didn't move far, but the new location, 1815 E. Washington Ave., is on the ground floor of a modern, mixed-use building that fronts the Yahara River and includes 228 apartments and 15,000 square feet of commercial space.
Edari is hosting a grand opening and all-day open house at the new space on Dec. 18 from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. A ceremonial ribbon cutting by the Madison Chamber of Commerce will take place at 3:30 p.m.
Events throughout the day will include guided tours, a tempering demonstration by Edari, and a chocolate bar station where customers can choose inclusions for custom holiday bars.
Speakers will include Zach Brandon, president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce; Ald. Marsha Rummel, 6th District; and Lynn Lee, president of the Marquette Neighborhood Association.
Edari, a criminal defense attorney and single mom, began making chocolates as a hobby and, in two years, has grown CocoVaa Chocolatier into an international award-winning fine chocolate company.
This summer, CocoVaa was honored by The Academy of Chocolate in a ceremony considered the "Oscars of the Chocolate World." Edari was named an International Rising Star, the only American to hold this title in 2018. She also became one of three North American chocolatiers to make the Academy's "Roll of Honor Board" in the 13-year history of the competition.
The Academy had a record-breaking 1,200 entries from 45 countries this year, "and the competition was very intense," said Sue Haddleton, of London, who coordinates The Academy of Chocolate Awards.
In August, Edari traveled to London with her two children to collect her awards.
Dan Lipnick, of Houston-based M-M Properties, said he's excited to have a world-renowned chocolatier as his first commercial tenant in the Marling. CocoVaa "exemplifies the dynamic energy that made Madison appeal to us in the first place," he said in a statement.
Mayor Paul Soglin is expected to make an appearance at the grand opening, said Edari, who is the granddaughter of Soglin's longtime friend, the late Clarence Kailin, a well-known Madison social justice activist.
Edari faced many setbacks in opening the new shop, which took more time and was more expensive than she expected. She said she worried that her customers would forget about her in the time between shops when her chocolates were unavailable.
She had to close down her old location to commit herself to supervising the construction of the new location because she didn’t have a general contractor. She wound up designing and supervising the construction herself and faced enormous cost overruns.
New construction is really hard to predict, Edari said, adding that she couldn’t give anyone a clear answer about when she'd open. Even after the work was finished, she had to wait for the dust to settle and for the place to be really clean before she could cook.
"The first day I found it acceptable to start cooking, I stayed up all night to build inventory and I opened on a Sunday. To my surprise, I had a record high day of sales," she said.
"It was really heartwarming to see my shop filled with both regulars and new customers on the first day I opened and with little advertising -- just word of mouth and Facebook."