"The economy wasn't good that year, and I didn't want to go to graduate school," he says. "My father [Tzvi Schachter] thought that running a chocolate shop as a family would be a good way for me to get started."
Five years later, the father-and-son team decided it was time to venture on their own, and Miami Beach Chocolates was born.
Eli, who got a degree in finance, makes chocolate with his mother, Raquel Schachter. She is passionate about combining the playful designs and delectable flavors that give their offerings a homespun vibe.
The Miami Beach shop, located at 456 W. 41st St., is as close to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory as it gets in South Florida.
Several display cases tempt with truffles, dips, and nut-filled barks, made with chocolate sourced from Belgium, France, and Switzerland. At any given time, customers can watch the family make the treats behind a glass-encased space, where a tempering machine melts the chocolate before it is poured into plastic molds.
"Chocolate is temperamental," Eli says. "It needs to be perfectly smooth before we transform it."
More whimsical offerings include chocolate dancing clowns and mask lollipops ($3.25 each), covered apples ($12), rose bouquets ($30 for five), and Jewish star lollipop ($40 for ten).
Sweet indulgences are also sold in gift boxes, such as a chocolate turtle gift box ($34 for eight), cheesecake bites ($38), and chocolate truffles and clusters gift box ($49 for 24 pieces). Orders are taken for catering and special events.
Even though the family's first store is located in a tourist area and they ship nationwide, Raquel says the focus has always been in engaging with the locals.
"Our regular customers ask for customized creations. They are teachers to us, always bringing new ideas," Raquel says. "Chocolate has a special place in a lot of people's hearts, and we don't cut corners when it comes to ingredients. People learn to appreciate the quality. Their palates adjust, and they find they can't go back to mass-produced types."
The shop offers catering, tours, and hands-on field trips. A themed "sweet night out" where participants can learn about the history of chocolate-crafting, molding, and how to write and decorate with chocolate. A few café tables are set out on the sidewalk for customers to enjoy coffee, milkshakes, and hot chocolate. There's also a selection of kosher wines to choose from.
The Schachters opened a second shop in Surfside about a year ago to "help take that community to the next level," according to Eli. "We don't cater to only Jewish and kosher," adds the chocolatier, noting that many products are vegan, and the family has recently launched a line of CBD-infused treats. "People say it's like double relief. They get their chocolate fix and also sleep better."
There are no additives or preservatives added to the chocolate, Eli says, and the sudden drop in sales due to the coronavirus outbreak led the family to donate most of their inventory before pivoting to delivery.
"To last in Miami for a decade, you have to be dedicated," he says. "We work around the clock to make things work like a mom-and-pop shop, and we are always trying to be more efficient and better. Even in this new scenario, we keep on pushing."
Miami Beach Chocolates. 9433 Harding Ave., Surfside; 786-216-7467; and 456 W. 41st St., Miami Beach, 305-532-4949; miamibeachchocolates.com.