We had the good fortune of connecting with Giusseida Sicoli and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Giusseida, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I had been in the dentistry field for almost a decade and I wanted to switch gears and run a business where I could apply my passion for service and attention to detail but in a sector where my efforts could scale effectively. I also wanted to be part of something where I could extract the most value out my international exposure. My husband and I lived in the France-Switzerland border for a while and needless to say, we developed a passion and appreciation for gourmet chocolate. We looked for potential businesses to purchase in Houston and we found Araya Artisan Chocolate. The previous owners moved out of the country and we came across the opportunity to purchase the company. Araya Artisan Chocolate is one of the longest running and highest-ranked fine chocolatiers in Houston and is a company that has an outstanding array of products. The brand is well positioned in Texas, and our customers love our products. It was a no-brainer!
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Araya does so many things well. If I had to choose one, it has to be product quality. We start with ultra-premium grade single Origin Venezuelan chocolate, we use real fruits and we make our pieces by hand in small batches. We don’t use preservatives and we don’t cut corners!
It feels really good to be proud of the products you make, we have done it like that for 10 years and we don’t intend to change anytime soon. Our customers value the attention to detail in all of our products and the personalized attention they get when they purchase from us, on our website or at our stores. A lot of people ask me about the word “artisan” in our name. To me, artisan means that we produce our pieces using traditional French and Belgian techniques and that it’s all made by hand. It means I text my clients from my own cell phone following up on orders and making sure that their experience was nothing short of spectacular. It means we value each and every customer and we enjoy serving them!
What’s one thing about your industry that outsiders are probably unaware of?
Technically, white chocolate doesn’t have chocolate. It is made out of cacao butter, which is a byproduct of the cacao beans. Cacao butter is also used to make cosmetics.
Risk taking: how do you think about risk, what role has taking risks played in your life/career?
Risk is where opportunities go and hide. It is uncomfortable to take risks but if you do your homework and do a thorough analysis of all potential outcomes, taking risks becomes another habit. You want to be right 80% of the time and you want to make sure that you can afford to loose the remaining 20%.
Other than deciding to work for yourself, what was the single most important decision you made that contributed to your success?
The decision to come back to the U.S. after giving Europe a try was definitely an important one. Many people are seduced by the way of life in Europe, but actually moving there and giving it a try makes you realize all of the opportunities for growth and development that we have here, specially in Texas, specially in Houston. Plus the hospitality of Texans is unparalleled!
What’s the most difficult decision you’ve ever had to make?
Leaving my country, Venezuela, to get my masters in Orthodontics in Mexico City. Leaving friends and family behind has a lasting effect in you, it has tremendous effect in your personality, how you mature and it definitely makes you appreciate much more the time spent with loved ones!
Work life balance: how has your balance changed over time? How do you think about the balance?
My husband and I are very disciplined about setting work and family time boundaries so that we can be actively present in both facets of our lives. We have protocols to minimize work distractions when we are with our two (soon to be three) children. There are critical phases in both, family and work lives that require you to tilt your attention a bit more to one or the other, sometimes for weeks or months. But we try to maintain a healthy balance.
Do you have a favorite quote or affirmation? What does it mean to you / what do you like about it?
Churchill’s are phenomenal, but my favorite one is Thomas Jefferson’s “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” I think there is really no substitute for hard and smart work. You have to be willing to say no a lot, and focus on what matters the most. Do it with excellence.
What do you want your legacy to be? What do you want people to remember about you?
We take great satisfaction in being able to help underserved families. We directly support families in our hometown in Venezuela as well as here in Houston. The most rewarding thing in the world to me would be to see those families prosper and get our of poverty.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
1. Hang out at The Rustic, both locations are phenomenal 2. Visit Donovan Park in the The Heights with kids 3. Catch brunch at Tiny’s or Mastranto’s 4. Pizza at Gypsy Poet 5. Shopping at The Height’s 19th street 6. Grab new books for kids at Blue Whale 7. Gelato at Araya Artisan Chocolate Uptown Park! 8. Dinner at MAD 9. Catch The Nutcracker at the Houston Ballet. Not this holiday season though 🙁 10. Ramen in Chinatown 11. Bike around the Hike And Bike Trail
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My grandparents are really my greatest inspiration. They left Italy after World War II and started from scratch in Venezuela. They succeeded not only in business but also lived a happy and fulfilling life. They mentored me and always encouraged me to get educated, to reach my goals and prosper.
Other: Google maps: https://g.page/ArayaUptown?share