Patty Denny originally launched her chocolate business, Telluride Truffle, on the internet because she never thought she’d be able to afford a storefront in Telluride. Twenty-three years later, she operates three retail locations — one in Telluride, one in Lawson Hill, and now, one in Denver.
“This move to Denver was always on the radar from the very beginning. I built the company to expand,” explained Denny from the patio of her new Denver facility, which overlooks six lanes of traffic on West Alameda Avenue. “Telluride’s economy 25 years ago scared me to death. I wondered how in the world does anybody make a living here? So when I started the business, I knew I had to be ready to go national because the Telluride economy alone will not support me. It’s too finicky.”
Denny started out selling 14 truffles, what she calls “the backbone of the company.” Now she offers a total of 72 different items, including truffles, caramels and cakes. Having operated a chocolate kitchen and retail space in Lawson Hill for over 15 years, Denny said she was bursting at the seams.
“We had our biggest Christmas ever, shipping out 800 orders, which is about as much as we could handle out of that space,” she said. “I also needed newer equipment, and I needed three phase electricity, which allows you to buy bigger equipment but doesn’t exist in Lawson Hill.”
Through research, Denny discovered a niche for an artisan chocolate company in Denver, as there’s only one such business currently operating in the area.
“And he’s way on the east side, so we’re really far apart,” she said. “He’s very good but more expensive than I am, so there’s a lot of business here for me.”
She started hunting for a space in April 2019, found a 1,500-square-foot building that was formerly a Taco Bell in June, and after a month and half of negotiations on the lease, she took ownership in August of last year. After purchasing and installing about $70,000 worth of new equipment, including a big walk-in freezer, Denny moved in and started producing chocolates there in January.
“The space is tremendously efficient because it’s set up exactly for a chocolate company,” she said. “And it’s centrally located by two major highways — Sixth Avenue and I-25 — offering convenient access.”
Having rented out her kitchen space in Lawson Hill, Denny now produces her entire line of truffles from the new Denver location. And while there are still retail sales out of Lawson, she will move all shipping operations to Denver as well.
“We thought about opening retail in Denver in early March, but then COVID hit it wasn’t a good time for a grand opening of a chocolate shop,” she said. “But now things in Denver are feeling more normal.”
Due to extensive construction on the Nugget Building last year, Denny had to vacate her beloved retail space and moved her store temporarily to a downstairs space in the Wintercrown Building in October.
“Before the COVID shutdown, the shop in town was down 20 percent from previous years due to the move from the Nugget Building to the Wintercrown space,” explained Denny. “From COVID until now the gross for the shop in town is down 68 percent from the previous year, but keep in mind we were closed entirely for three months; we normally don't close for offseason. Since reopening, mid-June until now we are down 45 percent. But our website is up 120 percent.”
Denny has long contended that it’s a challenge to operate a business in Telluride: To retain workers and pay strong wages year-round when business only booms six months out of the year with two offseasons.
She has hired two full-time employees in Denver and is in the process of hiring two more while retaining three employees in Telluride. Denny says it’s easier to find career-minded employees for her type of business in Denver, and her new employees tend not to move away; whereas in Telluride, she has to teach everybody from the ground up and they often eventually leave town. After 23 years in business, she says an owner should be needed less and less in terms of day-to-day operations.
“But I was actually working more and more and I saw the writing on the wall: This is just going to get harder on me,” she explained. “It was going the wrong way. I’ve had my staff here in Denver working since the end of May and they’ve picked it up so quickly. Already, they’re saying, ‘Get out of here!’ They’re real professionals.”
With no plans to leave Telluride, Denny is currently in negotiations to secure a new retail space in town to move Telluride Truffle to its “final home” in October.
“I love Telluride way too much to leave,” said Denny. “The goal is to run day-to-day operations without me so that I can do marketing and grow the company which is what an owner should be doing.”