Five years ago, Beth Tully was a successful marketing executive who felt like a fraud.
Although she was good at her job as a regional marketer for Coca-Cola, she wasn't happy, and a 50th birthday bash and a little tequila helped her realize it.
With the support of her firefighter husband, Jay, Tully quit her job, went to culinary school to become a master chocolatier, and launched one of Wichita's most successful and stylish businesses — Cocoa Dolce at 2132 N. Rock Road.
Later this month, Tully and her dedicated staff will celebrate the store's anniversary, marking five years of success beyond what anyone expected on Nov. 28, 2005.
"What I'm seeing now was maybe on my 10-year plan," Tully said. "Our first year blew my expectations way out of the water."
Tully clearly remembers her first day in business in her tiny, 1,200-square-foot building at Siena Plaza at 37th and Rock.
She had a vision for an upscale chocolate shop and a passion for the product she'd learned to create, though she was realistic enough to know that didn't guarantee anything.
But her first day in business set the tone.
The cash register wasn't working, but Tully was slammed with business. She ended up giving away chocolate all day.
"They just kept coming and never stopped coming," she said.
The business grew and grew, even in a stagnant economy, and Tully earned not only local celebrity but national press. She added gelato, wine and coffee to her list of services and rarely said "no" to a request to donate chocolate to a fundraising event.
Then, Bradley Fair came calling. Developer George Laham told Tully he had the perfect spot for her, next door to an Il Vicino restaurant being built. She and Jay resisted at first, not excited about "giving birth" again so soon after building the first store.
But after careful consideration, which included both of them sitting in their cars for hours watching Bradley Fair teeming with customers, the couple decided the move was a no-brainer. Tully opened her new store in a 2,200-square-foot-space, almost double the size of the original store, in August 2009.
Today, Tully splits her time between the retail store, decorated in warm colors and comfortable conversation couches, and her unmarked chocolate factory nearby, where professional chocolatiers work to make 5,500 pieces of chocolate a day during peak season, which runs from October to Easter.
She's expanded her chocolate offerings from an original 30 varieties to nearly 100 today, including exotic flavors such as curry and custom items such as Wichita State University-branded "Shockalates."
On a recent Tuesday morning, Tully was in the shop wearing her signature chocolatier's chef's jacket.
She juggled questions from her bookkeeper mother with questions from the media and uncharacteristic nerves over a lunch address she was about to deliver to the Wichita Bar Association.
Tully no longer feels like a fraud, she said. But sometimes she still can't believe how good her chocolate-as-career idea actually was.
"It's always over-performed my expectations," she said with a smile. "I guess that's a good thing."