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 spend some time with Ken Koury, the man behind the Nutty Chocolatier organization.
I was not aware there had been as many as ten stores. Currently, the operation consists of half a dozen locations. Making weekly visits to the local store, I have always assumed, 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 halfway, in case your geography is a bit off. His father worked in 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. Still, 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 Loblaws and Sayvette gave me an appreciation for hard work. I focused my classroom activities on a more creative process, something most teachers, 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 purchased 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 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. 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, 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 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 staff’s friendliness at the Nutty Chocolatier. If you have a craving for some fine Belgian chocolate, some retro candies, ice cream or frozen yogurt, make your way to 182 Queen Street, in historic Port Perry. Did I mention they are open until 9 p.m.? Yummy!
Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award-winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Watch his show, ‘Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel’, on Rogers TV, the Standard Website or YouTube.