Chocolate is without a doubt, my favourite food. I could eat it all day long, as much as possible. I’m sure it was part of the formula my parents fed me, when I was a baby. For that reason, I was pleased to be able to spend some time with Ken Koury, the man behind the Nutty Chocolatier organization.
I was not aware, there have been as many as ten stores, and currently the operation consists of half a dozen locations. Making weekly visits to the local store, I have always assumed that Ken, the force behind it, has been involved with chocolate his entire life. That however, is not the case.
Ken Koury was born in Kirkland Lake, which is about six hours north of here (North Bay is half way, in case your geography is a bit off). His father worked in the mines in the area, and his mom looked after Ken and his brothers and sisters. Ken’s grandparents immigrated to Montreal from Lebanon.
At the early age of six, Ken had a paper route and before he was in high school, he was pumping gas at a local station. When he was nine the family moved to Sudbury, which offered greater work opportunities for his father.
To make ends meet, Ken’s dad sold televisions and appliances part time and realized his selling skills were pretty good. An opportunity arose for the family to move to Toronto and Ken’s father began a successful career in real estate.
Sadly, Ken’s mother passed away just as Ken was finishing high school, but he persevered and upon graduation, attended York University. He then completed Teacher’s College and became a science, business and industrial arts teacher.
“My part time jobs at Loblaw and Sayvette gave me an appreciation for hard work. I focussed my classroom activities on a more creative process, something most teacher’s at the time were not doing.” I questioned Ken further. “In Industrial Arts, I would teach how a machine worked and let students create whatever project they wanted.” His comments took me back to the birdhouse I made in grade nine.
After fifteen years of teaching, Ken decided it was time for a change. Through his father’s real estate business, Ken was able to purchase a dilapidated house with only a few hundred dollars down. He fixed it up and rented it out. “It was a huge risk for the times, but I managed to get up to ten houses, and I was busier than ever.”
Ken married Joanne and they raised two sons. I asked him how he, managed to make his way to Port Perry. The story was quite interesting. “I used to get my hair cut at the Richmond-Adelaide centre in Toronto, by a guy named Rick McCoshen. He knew I was good at renovations and explained he was opening a barbershop in Port Perry (BarberRicks). He was also partnering with someone in a contracting business.” Ken paused, to reminisce. “Before I knew it, I was involved in the partnership and worked in a small office in Port Perry.”
Every day at lunch, Ken would walk from his office on North Street to Kurtz Deli (now That Place on Queen) and noticed the building next door, a folk art store, was for sale. Ken contacted the owner, and after some negotiations, he owned the building.
Ken had already decided he wanted a candy store in Port Perry, as there were none around for quite a distance. He was also adamant about having top quality chocolates, because he did not want to run a variety store.
“For three months I visited chocolate shops and antique dealers to learn about products and purchase old counters, and the like. All the while, I was renovating the store.” He started the concept in January of 1988, and opened for business in May of that year.
Initially, Ken bought the finest Belgian chocolate available, but when he opened a second location in Peterborough, he decided to begin manufacturing, mainly in an effort to maintain the quality. “Many people do not realize what goes into making chocolates. In most cases, it is a three day process of creating, curing and finishing.”
I asked how he maintained the high standards, not to mention a very high rate of product quality. Ken went on to explain that only the best of the best make it into the stores. “All the air has to be out of them or we will not sell it.” Ken explained. He went on to say, “We have an outlet for seconds on Reach Street in Port Perry.” Something, which I’m certainly glad to know.
Originally the stores were known as Nuts About Chocolate, but when he sold his first franchise, he ran into trademark issues and had to change the name. “The reason I called it the Nutty Chocolatier, was because there is only a three letter difference between that name and Nuts About Chocolate.” He smiled. “It meant I only had to change three letters around, making it financially sound.” We both laughed.
Ken has had stores in Toronto, Peterborough, Huntsville, Lindsay and as far away as North Bay. His keen business sense has given him the insight on which ones work and which don’t, leaving him with a very successful group of locations. His latest addition in Hillcrest Mall, Richmond Hill, is ready to go once the lockdown is over.
I can personally vouch for the quality of products and the friendliness of the staff at the Nutty Chocolatier. If you have a craving for some fine Belgian chocolate, some retro candies or ice cream/frozen yogurt, make your way to 182 Queen Street in historic Port Perry. Did I mention, they are open until 9:00 PM? Yummy!
Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award-winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. His show, ‘The Jonathan van Bilsen Show,’ on RogersTV, the Standard Website or YouTube, features many of the people included in this column.