Arbutus chocolate shop opens doors, finally

Nearly six months after moving into the storefront at 5403 East Drive, Jama Cocoa is finally welcoming customers into the shop.

Since coming to Arbutus last spring, the chocolate company has concentrated on selling its products online and increasing bulk sales to restaurants and hotels.

A planned grand opening scheduled for 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Halloween is expected to raise awareness about the shop. The event will feature chocolate sampling and some sort of Halloween activity, like face painting, Jama Cocoa founder Jamasen Rodriguez said

Unexpected complications caused Rodriguez and his colleagues to postpone the opening for walk-in traffic. That opening was originally planned for some time this summer.

Now, the store is fully operational and open for residents to come and check out a variety of chocolate products, ranging from hot chocolate to truffles.

The newly remodeled storefront is designed to provide chocoholics with a cafe-type atmosphere to get their sweet fix.

"The vision for the store really is to get people to understand what our brand is all about," said Rodriguez, a California native now a junior at Johns Hopkins University.

"We just want people to come in and enjoy the atmosphere, and sit down and enjoy their hot chocolate rather than grab a truffle and go," he said.

"The real goal of this storefront was to bring something new to the Arbutus community," he said. "There's a lot of pizza places in the area, and we just wanted to bring a new spin."

Rodriguez said business was slow during the shop's first week after it opened its doors on Sept. 30.

"The entire point of opening on Sept. 30 was to be a soft opening and to start word of mouth," he said. "We want to really start picking up before the holiday season."

Currently, the shop is open 5 to 10 p.m.

It will also mark the beginning of the store's appointment program that will offer in-house tastings, lessons in chocolate making and the history of chocolate.

"A guy and his girlfriend, or a mom and dad with their family, can come in for a tasting of the chocolates from different origins," Rodriguez said. "We teach them how to make a ganache, and they take home whatever they make."

He said he plans to offer these appointments as a tiered service.

"The bottom [tier] would be, they just get a quick lesson," Rodriguez said. "All the way to a full on lesson where we give them a certificate of a Jama Cocoa certified chocolatier and they can make their own truffles at home."

Rodriguez said he plans to reach out to the community in a variety of ways. "We really want to engage with them more," he said. "We want to be a pivotal brand within the community, which is part of our main goal.

"If there are any local artists in Halethorpe, Arbutus or Catonsville that want to feature their artwork in our shop, feel free to come by, give us a card," Rodriguez said. "We can put up your artwork on the frames we have.

"We really want to be the local family-type chocolate shop," he said.

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