Occupation: Founder of Chocolaterie Tessa
Location: Austin, Texas
Year Founded: 2012
Can You Visit?
Other Random Facts:
Megan Giller: What did you want to be when you were a kid?
Tessa Halstead: Ballet Dancer, Brain Surgeon, Corporate CEO
Megan: Why chocolate?
Tessa: My family has been making European-style confections in Texas since the early 1980’s. Growing up, they called my Dad a “chocolate pioneer” since he was not only crazy enough to move in with a Dutch family to learn how to make chocolate, but then he actually pulled off running a successful chocolate business in Texas for 25 years after that.
Starting at age 14, I worked for my Dad for all the major holidays and I can honestly say I loved every minute of it. I loved helping customers pick out the perfect gift for loved ones at Christmas, Valentines, Easter and Mother’s Day. I loved getting to know repeat customers who came in every year to get their kids stocking stuffers, or their Mom Mocha Pyramids and even the one lady who insisted that we get the chocolates “from the back” since the chocolates on the counter were not as good in her mind. Ha!
My Dad decided to retire and sell his business when I was in college. I cried about it for weeks, but I wasn’t ready to run “my Dad’s business” at that time. It took the business closing and being gone for a while before I realized how truly special it was. After working in Investment Banking and managing a wine bar & restaurant in Argentina, I knew I had to bring the family business back but on my own terms.
Megan: What’s your daily routine, starting with waking up and ending with bedtime?
Tessa: I wish I could say that I have a rock-solid, super-powered routine that I stick to relentlessly, but I don’t. I do wake up at the same time every day, including weekends, to spend time with my son. We have breakfast together and we read and then I take him to school and I’m off to work!
I meet with my team every morning at 9 am on the dot and we discuss the day’s priorities. From there it’s pretty much anything goes. As many small business owners can relate to, I’m the one who ends up doing all the things that other people are not doing, so my day to day is a mixed bag. A friend of mine who is a health coach says: “Schedule your priorities, don’t prioritize your schedule.” So, I am currently working on building time into my weekly routine for “free thinking.” After many years, we released our first line of decorative Easter eggs this season, so I feel like I’m making progress!
At the end of each day, I meet with my team one-on-one to discuss anything they need from me or to clarify priorities and I’m off to Mom again. Thankfully, my husband loves to cook so that is not part of my daily routine. I spend the evening with my family having dinner, doing bathtime, packing lunch for the next day, doing dishes (mundane but all true) and then I get some “me” time. I’m getting ready to have another baby in May so these days that generally involves me being in bed reading or watching something at least moderately educational on Netflix. The last thing I watched was the 7 Days Out series and it was awesome!
Megan: How do you find inspiration and creativity in your day-to-day work?
Tessa: Travel is something that I always did with my family growing up. Everywhere we went, we tried the local chocolates, and I mean everywhere from small towns in the middle of nowhere to the most famous cities in Europe. I still do that to this day annually with my husband. Recently we’ve been to Paris, Belgium and Germany to try the world’s best confections, see their packaging, pricing, flavors, etc. I always leave feeling pretty good about how our chocolates compare and of course also with a million ideas for how to improve and new avenues to explore. Our next goal is to do an origin trip so we can visit a cacao plantation. I want to know more about the whole chocolate-making process and that is certainly an educational gap I need to fill.
Megan: What are you most proud of in your business life?
Tessa: That I have provided a wonderful place for many women to work for almost 5 years now. It has always been part of my goal to develop the talents of other women and to provide a safe and positive work environment. We spend so much of our lives with our co-workers, I feel it’s mandatory that we surround ourselves with others who will support us and help us grow. I know in my heart that I’ve always done the very best that I could to make Chocolaterie Tessa wonderful place to be.
Megan: What would you tell yourself 10 or 20 years ago that you wish you knew then?
Tessa: Don’t take “the rules” so seriously. When I look back at my high school and college years, I see how much time I wasted worrying about getting good grades or doing the activities I thought my parents, teachers or peers thought I should do. Now I see how unnecessary that all was and how rewarding it has been to take the risks I have taken to live the life I am living now. When I quit my banking job to move with my boyfriend to Argentina, I was really nervous about how well that would work out (rightfully so). Now my boyfriend and I are married and about to have two kids and we both have careers we love amongst a slew of other blessings. I’m glad I didn’t miss out on that adventure to play it safe.
Megan: What’s a challenge that keeps you up at night?
Tessa: Sales. Good grief I hate being “salesy”. Can’t avoid it though.
Megan: What’s the one thing you wish people knew about chocolate?
Tessa: That paying for quality means paying for quality. I don’t know very many people in the chocolate industry who are lining their pockets with tons of cash. Most of us are trying to make the absolute best product we can with the best ingredients while supporting our staff and everyone else in the supply chain. That is what our customers are paying for and I think that is valuable.
Megan: Name a woman (or several women), past or present, whom you admire.
Tessa: Goodness, there are so many. My Mom for setting the example of being a working Mom and being passionate about both career and family. My Grandmothers, one of which was college-educated when most others her age were not and the other who was also a working Mom when many others were not. My mentor, Beth Lambert, who is a total boss: breast cancer survivor, fierce competitor, big picture thinker, always thorough, thoughtful, quick with a laugh and a smile and she does it all while also raising a family, caring for ailing relatives and making time for travel and fun. Super woman!