TURLOCK NOW: Turlock chocolatier hopes for a Kickstarter

03/25/2013 5:16 PM

03/25/2013 5:41 PM

Some of the sweet offerings from Turlock's Zuzu Candies

TURLOCK – In the school thought that says “give the people what they want,” few things rank higher than chocolate on the want list.

So Turlock resident Valerie Lamke is doing just that, with her new business and its accompanying online fundraising campaign. Lamke started her chocolate and candies business Zuzu Candies last year. Since then she has been offered her handmade creations – from chocolate truffles to caramels to fudge, cookies and more – at farmers markets and special events.

Now, in an effort to upgrade her business and open in her own designated production site, Lamke has launched a Kickstarter campaign, an online funding campaign which offers incentives to microinvestors. She hopes to raise $8,500 to allow her to rent her own space in Turlock.

“This is the new thing, this is the new wave of the future,” she said. “I’m trying to get creative. It’s a gamble, so still trying to groom some other possibilities if this doesn’t work for me.”

So far, the campaign, which has a week left to go, is far short of her goal. She’s raised a little over $300. Kickstarter has an all-or-nothing funding system – those who do not reach their goal go not get any money nor do backers have to pay. But Lamke said she hasn’t given up hope that she’ll get there by the April 3.

Kickstarter has raised more than $500 million in funds for creative projects across the globe since launching in 2009. But Lamke is only the second Turlock resident to launch a campaign on the site with the city listed as its hometown. The other was a film project, "Buttons in the Ground," started by some Turlock natives living in Los Angeles in 2010. They successfully raised more than $30,000.

Lamke, who went into candy making as a career change after working in behavioral health, has featured her treats at the Turlock Certified Farmers Market and California State University, Stanislaus Vines event in the past year. In February the International Chocolate Salon awarded Zuzu Candies four stars in its 2013 Best Chocolatiers and Confectioners in America Awards.

This year she has been invited to join the Modesto Certified Farmers Market and create a dessert table for Toscana's Ristorante in Turlock.

She said sweets run in the family. Her great grandfather came to San Francisco from Austria in 1900 and opened Vienna Bakeries in the city. While she is the first chocolatier in a family of bakers and pastry makers, the leap was a simple one to make.

“It’s in my blood. Quite frankly my great grandfather inspired me, all the stories about him and how he grew his own fruit for his pastries,” Lamke said.

Zuzu Candies are all natural, and Lamke has dubbed them “Big, Fat and Luscious” in the company’s tagline.

Because she doesn’t have her own production kitchen yet, Lamke has had to rent commercial kitchen space to produce her candies. But without her own space, she has no place to warehouse finished product. She is in talks to rent and renovate a 1,500 square foot facility on South Tegner Road in Turlock.

The money from the Kickstarter would help pay for tenant improvements, basic equipment and permits to get the kitchen running. Already Lamke said she estimates she has sunk some $15,000 to $20,000 of her own money in her new business.

Donors get perks back for funding the campaign, depending on donation amount. For all but the lowest $5 pledge that means so sort of sweet – from a one-time bag of caramels to a box of truffle sent out monthly for a period of time. Still Lamke said if the funding doesn’t come through online she has some other funding avenues to pursue. But without some sort of cash infusion her sweet dreams may come to a sour end.

“We’re in limbo right now,” she said. “I’m at a make it or break it moment. If you like the concept of what I’m doing and it feels like it’s something you’d like – an artisan-crafted Belgian chocolate made with organic and natural ingredients – then I’m your gal. Come on board and let’s get this party started.”

Visit Lamke’s Zuzu Candies Kickstarter page here.

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