Maribea, a craft chocolate shop in Odessa, will open Saturday with the help of a new city-backed program aimed at starting new businesses or expanding existing ones.
The chocolate shop, owned by Mark Merritt, recently won the Odessa Business Challenge funded by the city that encouraged entrepreneurs to compete for grants. Maribea won a $100,000 grant that chocolatier and day-to-day manager Joseph Gabaldon said will help pay for chocolate-making equipment and inventory.
“It definitely assisted us with getting the idea moving faster,” Gabaldon said.
The Odessa City Council and the city board overseeing economic development money, the Odessa Development Corporation, devoted $350,000 for grants last year.
The chocolate factory and shop is at 7200 Sprague Road, next to Merritt’s machine shop. There, Gabaldon and Merritt import cacao beans from all over the world and process them into chocolate bars and other products that they sell individually or wholesale.
A mass produced chocolate bar can be churned out in hours, Gabaldon said. Making a craft chocolate bar takes days. He said the bars also contain fewer additives and tastes that vary with the cacao beans used.
“Every chocolate bar that we make is going to taste different,” Gabaldon said. “That’s craft chocolate.”
Merritt, who named the shop after his wife, experimented for years with chocolate making before starting the business.
At the opening event starting at 10 a.m. Saturday, Maribea will give out samples, offer paid tours of the chocolate factory and feature treats prepared by The Garlic Press with Maribea chocolate.
More than 40 people entered the contest that began in October and was overseen by the Small Businesses Development Center at UTPB, SBDC Regional Director Enrique Romero said.
Romero said Maribea won the contest because they presented the strongest market research, that defended their business plan that included projected sales and profits, and they showed they already had corporate customers and an opportunity for sales outside of Odessa.
He said the taxpayer-funded grant covers about 30 percent of the total investment in the business.
The entrepreneurs had to attend seminars helping them craft business plans and pitch projects. A team of judges comprised of local business people vetted those planned.
Like a similar program in Midland, Romero said the purpose was to spur the creation of local businesses, train local entrepreneurs, offer public startup funding otherwise unavailable and promote the ODC.
“A lot of people struggle with starting or finishing a business plan,” Romero said. “This competition forced people to finish one.”
Besides Maribea, the judges decided to fund three other businesses for a total $260,000. The unspent funds will return to the ODC amid plans to propose expanding the program in its second year.
“The goal was not to give out all the money,” Romero said. “The goal was to see the value and the viability in every business. And to see what the judges felt was going to be the amount needed for a viable business.”
HERE ARE THE OTHER WINNERS:
- Second Place, receiving $75,000: Wanderfull Teeth, a start-up manufacturing and retail business in the oral care industry.
- Third Place, receiving $60,000: Supreme Athletic Competition, a start-up organized sport tournament and showcase hosting platform.
- Fourth Place, receiving $25,000: Knockout Wear, a retail clothing store.
- What: Grand opening of Maribea, a craft chocolate shop.
- When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.
- Where: 7200 Sprague Road.