Lucas Belgian Chocolate
Downtown. 73 State St. 722-0461
Amanda Ayers considers cheap chocolate to be a "waste of calories" — and as proprietor of Lucas Belgian Chocolate she should be allowed to judge. The shop is easily Charleston's premier chocolate destination, selling Belgium's famous Neuhaus line as well as locally-made truffles and turtles. Lucas Belgian Chocolate has been satisfying many a sweet tooth from its State Street location since 1982, but its true beginnings span much more time and distance.
The shop's founder and driving force, Monique Lucas, opened her first chocolate store in 1953 in the Belgian Congo, where she grew up. She regaled Ayers with stories of riding her bicycle to the train station where she would pick up the chocolate. The Congo independence revolution of 1960 brought an end to that shop and sent Lucas to Belgium, where she opened a Neuhaus shop. In 1982 Lucas sold that store in order to move to the United States and quickly opened her Charleston location.
Lucas and her son Marc ran the store for 18 years — selling chocolate from morning until night seven days a week. Finally, in 2000, Lucas decided to sell the store, and that's when Ayers saw the fated ad in the newspaper. At the time, Ayers was working at the Medical University of South Carolina in her chosen field of microbiology.
Originally from Ohio, she came South for undergraduate studies at Clemson University and the masters program at the University of Georgia. Here, she found research work, but in 2000 the funding expired. Tired of the lonely days conducting experiments, Ayers decided she needed a career change. She had recently married and enjoyed the energy of planning the wedding. So, she began to scan classifieds for an alternative profession that might give her a creative outlet.
The ad for Lucas Belgian Chocolate caught her eye immediately as it was an established business in a good location. Then Ayers met Lucas. "We fell in love," she says. Since Ayers had no prior chocolate experience, Lucas stayed with her for two months — teaching her the fundamentals of the business and entertaining her with endless stories. "I wish she would write a book," says Ayers.
Upon completion of her training, Ayers took over all aspects of the shop and worked six to seven days each week for the next four years. Despite the long hours, she loved the business. "Chocolate makes people happy," she says. "People come here for a reason."
After the birth of her first son, Ayers cut back to just a few days each week in the shop, and since the birth of her second she rarely works in the store itself. Ayers trusts daily management to Richard Hanckel while she keeps up with the books and plans her latest project — chocolate tastings. The idea for this venture struck her while working in the store and explaining to customers the difference between quality chocolate and lesser chocolate. She found that when she invited people to a taste test they immediately understood the higher cost of her product.
Currently, Ayers conducts tastings through Carolina FoodPros' culinary tour and through private events in peoples' homes. She discusses the origins of various cocoa beans and compares European and American chocolate. (In Europe, cocoa has to be the dominant ingredient, and cocoa butter is used instead of vegetable oil.) She finds that people are very receptive as she teaches them that fine chocolate is not "a kid's treat." Of course, her own boys are allowed a bit of Lucas Belgian Chocolate from time to time. In fact, the oldest has no interest in other candy, and the younger knows exactly where to point.