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Tampa’s Chocolate Delight moves to Carrollwood

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Published:   |   Updated: August 22, 2013 at 05:52 PM

CARROLLWOOD — With her home destined to become an empty nest, Tish Lewis explored her options in the business world.

In 2009, when the stay-at-home mother of five saw a “for sale” sign in the window of a candy store she frequented, she made an offer.

For Lewis, the road to success had many forks. Early on, what might have appeared as detours actually helped clear her path to making a go of it in a business she deemed ideal.

“I like interacting with people, and I love chocolate,” she said. “So I could see it as a fun thing to do, not just a job.”

Her businesslike approach to that fun job started with a paid apprenticeship preceding acquisition of the company, an experience that enabled her to learn nuances of the shop she would make her own.

Declining the initial offer from Lewis, the owner, Debbie Stephens, introduced her to a woman also interested in buying the shop. Lewis and that woman formed a partnership, made a new offer and became co-owners.

The first of several changes included the obvious need to rename the shop from Debbie’s Chocolate Delight to Tampa’s Chocolate Delight. Then came a move.

“The store was not doing well” at its Busch Boulevard location near Armenia Avenue, where the original owner moved it after 10 years at Carrollwood’s Grand Plaza shopping center, said Lewis. As the store was drawing insufficient traffic to support two owners, the women reached an agreement, and Lewis bought out her partner.

“Debbie was content with a very small mom-and-pop type store, but I like to have more business,” Lewis said. After three years on Busch, Lewis decided it was time to return to North Dale Mabry. Two months ago, the shop moved to 11751 N. Dale Mabry.

“We have very loyal customers who have followed the store to this location,” said Lewis, who has lived in Lutz for 13 years.

Longtime customers find the important things remain unchanged.

“Debbie promoted a very warm feeling” in the original shop, Lewis said. “I wanted my chocolate shop to be like Cheers,” she said, referencing the now-syndicated sitcom’s namesake Boston bar “where everybody knows your name.”

Lewis also maintains the original store’s recipes and stocks a collection of 7,000 plastic molds to create custom orders — everything from an alligator or pirate to designs ideal as gifts for weight lifters, karate students and skateboarders.

A Rhode Island lawyer who found the store online (tampaschocolatedelight.com) recently ordered a couple dozen chocolate gavels. “I’ve shipped all over the country, and during the holidays I ship a lot,” said Lewis.

With one former Debbie’s employee who stayed on after the sale, Lewis, 59, operates the shop six days a week. She also gets help, especially with marketing, from her husband, Howard. The store is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and until 5 p.m. on Saturday, but Lewis often remains after hours making chocolate creations to fill custom orders and the ample display cases.

The move to the remodeled 1,000-square-foot shop has proven to be a good one. Sharing the shopping center with established businesses that draw customers, such as Carrollwood Florist and Parrot Pub, and newer tenants such as Burger 21, helps the candy shop draw foot traffic, Lewis said.

Mike Shade of Lutz, a retired welder, is among those to discover the new home of the longtime business. “Oh, a chocolate store; I’m gonna be a regular customer,” he told Lewis during a recent late-afternoon visit. Pointing to a sugar-free chocolate-covered cherry, he said, “Don’t wrap it up, don’t give me a napkin, just hand it to me,” immediately popping the sweet morsel in his mouth.

gwilkens@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7124

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