Why Sydneysiders Continue to Crave Chocolate from Kakawa Over A Decade On

Editorial Team | Interviews

This Sydney institution is looking to technology to drive interest and awareness of its beautiful bonbons, triple-layered truffles and chunky chocolate bars.

Sat aside from one of Sydney’s busiest commuting streets is a chocolate oasis that offers respite from engine smoke in favour of sweeter-smelling fumes. Having opened shop in 2008, chef David Ralph and his wife, pastry chef Gin Sun Kim,  have steadily built Kakawa into one of the most sought after artisan chocolatiers in the city. Favourited and frequented by a loyal customer base, their consistently high-quality products and creations have made their way to the furthest corners of Australia.

“They used to say the best ability is like availability,
but I think it’s adaptability.”

Taking its name from the ancient Mexican word for cacao, Kawaka takes an almost poetic approach to chocolate making. Cacao, the base ingredient for chocolate is “usually grown in subtropical climates and the countries,” explains Ralph, as he runs his fingers through yet another barrel of chocolate on his kitchen shelf. “A lot of the companies we use are French, Swiss, Belgium, Italian. We’re also using Australian companies now as well.”

Ralph, who has worked in notable kitchens like Quay and Flying Fish in Sydney as well as with the Gordan Ramsey Group in London, equates life as a chocolatier to that of a baker, chef, or fishmonger. His shop is a verified playground for sweet making. Mixers, shakers, tappers and toppings of all colours, shapes and sizes line tables and shelves.

Smells range from sweet to savoury and bars from perfectly straight to artfully snapped. Each are either bagged for purchase or arranged for individual gift wrapping. 35 different bonbons, truffles and pralines call its shop counter home, each nudging up alongside fudges and fillings and ice cream sandwiches.

Ralph says that the hardest part about running a business is working out your clientele and the secret to creating a business that survives over time is having the ability to change. “They used to say the best ability is like availability, but I think it’s adaptability,” he laughs, “at least that is what the past couple of years has shown.” He goes on to say that a willingness to read the market and experiment is key to staying relevant and to keeping customers.

Change comes in many forms. For Ralph this has meant investing in his digital presence to enable him to reach more customers and presses the importance of sourcing a great food photographer and investing in professionals when it comes to your hospitality website, digital media, and marketing.

“We’ve probably seen about 20-30 per cent
increase with online orders.”

By recognising that even hand-made chocolate shops can benefit from online visibility and a digital-first approach, Ralph has seen revenue increase during a time of difficulty and uncertainty. He says he has seen a 20-30 per cent increase in sales during the Easter period of 2022, which he believes was a direct result of an investment in digital.

“For a chocolate shop… Easter and Christmas are close to 50, 60 per cent of your yearly turnover…your two busiest times of the year. We did see like a 20 to 30 per cent increase in numbers. Last year we had one day with 60 or 70 customers. We’ve seen that grow to about 120, 130. So, retail has probably picked up 10 to 15 per cent. We’ve probably seen about 20- 30 per cent online with online orders. So, it’s just that constant stream of the printer printing out orders and coming in. I think some days we’ve had like 20, 30 orders on our bench ready to go where in the past it was maybe like five.”

When asked to offer up advice for small business owners Ralph says he says huge benefits by starting out at local markets and testing products before looking to bricks and mortar stores. “We used to have a market shop in Manly just to try out our products, see if people liked it…

I see a lot of chefs do now with their popup dinners is get an idea what customers like.”

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