Bernadette’s Take on
Ingrid Läderach-Steven from Toronto
An aria in delicious chocolate
Don’t ask Ingrid whether she still can smell chocolate after 28 years in the chocolate business.
“Absolutely!” she says and laughs. “A true Swiss cannot live without chocolate nor without cheese.”
(Hey, this is your gateway for becoming a true Swiss: eat cheese and chocolate!)
I really should not use the word “business” either because Ingrid considers her Toronto store Swiss-Master Chocolatier boutique “a true labour of love”.
She says marketing Swiss chocolate in the largest Canadian city is much more than just selling chocolate. “There are so many lonely people out there who need to talk a little bit. And that is what is beautiful about the store, and what has made it so successful: the interaction between human beings. That brings more satisfaction than anything else, something that comes naturally from being Swiss and running a business”, Ingrid says.
Ingrid imports high-quality Swiss chocolate directly from Switzerland. “We have a large selection of truffles and pralines … up to 65 different types,” she says. Her chocolates are air-frighted to Canada and – Ingrid says – “they taste just like back in Switzerland”. One of her main suppliers is Läderach,
a renowned maker of fresh cream truffles and pralines whose exports stretch around the world to serve upscale clientele. Ingrid also imports from Aeschbach Chocolatier, another well-known Swiss chocolate maker.
Ingrid ended up calling her store “Swiss-Master Chocolatier” because she realized that nobody in Canada would be able to pronounce “Läderach” (many Canadians pronounced it as “Laderick”).
Her costumers have become her friends, Ingrid says. “We have a great following and some people come every day to get their chocolate fix. Some buy chocolate as a gift. Other costumers buy chocolate only at Christmas, Easter and Valentine’s and for special gifts and celebrations.”
And then there is her corporate clientele who usually buy in very huge volumes. At the recent Canadian Auto Show for instance, thousands of visitors were treated with a little chocolate gift from Ingrid`s store.
Weren’t they lucky?
Ingrid who comes from the Swiss town of Lucerne, never thought of becoming a chocolate store owner when she was young – even though she was a graduate of the prestigious Richemont culinary school in Lucerne.
When she was a teen, she had the voice of an opera singer. Ingrid says that the famous doctor Albert Schweitzer sent her a congratulatory note, writing of the “voice of a little angel”.
“I won a scholarship at the well-known Randall School in Denver/Colorado
which put me on singing tours all over the United States and appearances on TV.”
And then tragedy struck. “I got a virus that attacked my vocal cords and sadly, that was the end of my singing career”, Ingrid says.
A person not as strong as Ingrid would not have gotten over this personal disaster. But Ingrid Läderach did not give in to the heavy hand that life served her.
On her way back from the U.S., she traveled to Canada in order to see an aunt who had emigrated to Toronto “and that is where I met my husband Tom Steven. The rest is history.”
Life did not go any easier for her even after that. For starters, she nearly died when she went into cardiac arrest on a plane flying over Nebraska.
And later in life, she ended up having seven miscarriages before she gave birth to her two daughters.
But today she says: “I have come out of it and I am grateful for what I have and I feel so blessed.”
When the daughters were grown, Ingrid wanted to do something that connected her to Switzerland. Her godmother from Basel brought over some “läckerli” (this Swiss speciality is baked according to a top-secret recipe using honey, hazelnuts and almonds, candied orange and lemon peel, and some spices) to Toronto that gave Ingrid an idea: “I phoned owner Peter Klein at Läckerli Huus about importing the cookies to North America.”
This led also to the wholesaling of chocolate to hotels, clubs and cruise lines in North America. Which then led her to opening up a chocolate boutique in Toronto.
As you can imagine, her store became a hit in Toronto, “serving some of Canada’s wealthiest and most prominent”, Ingrid adds. It is not really a store, it is something like a treasure box, with only 305 square feet. It is redecorated every few months, always with a new theme. “What people get out of my store is not just chocolate, it is also the friendly service. You really have to like people to be good at retail”, Ingrid says.
That is why she does not hire staff at minimum wage. “The store is not like a fast-food-outlet, it is a very special upscale shop with a very special product,” Ingrid says proudly.
She is a one woman-marketing campaign for Switzerland, believe me.
No wonder that last year, the Canadian government chose her store as a role model for small businesses in Canada. “I was flabbergasted”, Ingrid recalls. A year later, congratulatory greetings from Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada, were sent to Switzerland. Ingrid presented it personally to the Läderach chocolate people at the their 50th-anniversary-celebration in Switzerland. (I won`t congratulate Ingrid on this achievement because who am I compared to the Prime Minister…)
But Ingrid Läderach does not rest on her laurels. “You have to be careful not to become complacent”, she says, and she also directs this advice to the entire Swiss chocolate industry as there is a lot of competition out there.
I know, I know, Ingrid. I don’t want to become complacent.
But I am desperate for a chocolate fix right now.
Maybe one of Ingrid’s truffles with the smiley face on it. Or the one where it says “For you”.
I already feel better thinking about it.
Have a look at Ingrid’s website
Here are the Can-Swiss Quiz questions for Ingrid:
What gift do you take to Switzerland from Canada?
I usually bring ice wine plus some Roots Canada sweatshirts to Switzerland.
What product(s) do you miss most in Canada?
The products I miss most from Switzerland are croissants, and the good breads.
Which are the 3 qualities you cherish most in Swiss men or women?
Their love for their homeland, punctuality and sensitivity.
Which are the 3 qualities you cherish most in Canadian men or women?
This is a tough question as Canada is such a melting pot of personalities but what does come to mind would be their openness, their casualness and their verbal politeness.
What triggered a culture shock for you in Switzerland?
Coming from a very relaxed, casual business atmosphere to a somewhat stiff and aloof one.
Which Canadian or Swiss personality fascinates you?
There is not one particular personality that fascinates me. What I am drawn to is the person who is honest, sincere.