PITTSBORO — Laura Phelps opened the first location of The Chocolate Cellar in Sanford in 2017 — the place she calls home with her daughter, Carol Wiley — as a way to continue one of their favorite pastimes: making indulgent chocolate truffles.
“We’ve been making truffles pretty much all her life and most of my life,” Phelps said. “It’s been so much fun … I’ve done other things in my life, but this has been the most satisfying.”
After the success of the Sanford store, the mother-daughter duo opened their second location — The Chocolate Cellar Deux — at 119 Hillsboro St. in downtown Pittsboro last month, marking a new era of expansion for the chocolate and sweets business.
The Chocolate Cellar’s origin story is one of family love and a passion for all things sweet. Wiley spent a summer in France during a study abroad program, where she saw various chocolate stores and candied delights.
“She came back and was just like, ‘Mom, we have got to do this,’” Phelps recounted. “Seeing what they had to offer in France, it was just such an experience — it was like, ‘Oh, we’ve got to do something.’”
After Wiley, 30, returned, she and Phelps began planning their dream chocolate shop. They found the perfect location in a cellar located in downtown Sanford with exposed brick, dark metal beams and other vintage, industrial touches.
“The cellar was in a building from the 1920’s,” Phelps said. “It just had such a cool vibe with the building.”
Phelps and Wiley embarked on their journey to open The Chocolate Cellar, and five years after it opened, Phelps and Wiley owned the original cellar as their kitchen, as well as a separate storefront location at 110 Carthage St. in Sanford. Phelps also quit her full-time job at NuFarm in 2021 to dedicate herself to her business.
“We had loyal customers, which was great, and then moving to the upstreet level it just compounded it, it was tenfold better,” Phelps said. “Business was really good. I think that was a stepping stone.”
The next step for Phelps and Wiley was to expand their business. One of the main places the duo thought about was downtown Pittsboro.
“I decided to try out Pittsboro because I’ve always loved downtown — it’s just so cute and so nice,” Phelps said. “I always loved Pittsboro, and the opportunity came up that there was a space right in historic downtown. We just decided to do it.”
Their Pittsboro store is located on Hillsboro Street, right in the heart of historic downtown. The new store is very similar to the Sanford one, complete with the same vintage vibe, according to Phelps.
“The building was built a little bit later, but it still has some of the features and the older architecture, and the whole downtown does, for that matter,” she said. “I felt like the business I have would be a good fit.”
June 10 marked the opening day for the shop’s second location, which they’re calling “The Chocolate Cellar Deux,” a direct translation of the French word for “two.”
The Chocolate Cellar Deux is a smaller version of its sister location, featuring two deli cases of homemade truffles — a chocolate shell filled with a chocolate ganache center and can include chopped nuts and fun designs — and chocolate candies. Phelps, Wiley and Pittsboro store manager Samm Hill will change out the selections of chocolates and truffles as the different seasons come and pass, according to the store owner.
“We average approximately 40 to 45 truffles in the Sanford location, and in Pittsboro, we have about half of that in one case, but we try to rotate it more,” Phelps said.
Phelps said since opening its Pittsboro location, The Chocolate Cellar Deux has been well received by the community. The new sweet shop has amassed a few hundred social media followers, and people walking by the new storefront will often come in and look at the various goodies.
“Business has been really good so far,” Phelps said. “People walk the streets of Pittsboro more than they do in Sanford, and so we get a lot of walk-in traffic, which is nice … People have been very receptive and very, very nice and welcoming.”
As with any business expansion, Phelps worried about whether a Pittsboro location would pay off. Early indications, she said, are that it will.
“I had the normal worries that I think are usual when anybody spends a lot of money,” she said. “(I)t seemed right. It seemed like a good fit. So I took a leap of faith — I’m trying it out and we’ll see if it works.”
Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @HeedenTaylor.
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