Business Briefing: Marking 3rd anniversary, Castro chocolatier hosts drag brunch

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday June 14, 2023
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Kokak Chocolates founder and head chocolatier Carol Gancia holds a tray of delectable confections. Photo: Courtesy Kokak Chocolates
Kokak Chocolates founder and head chocolatier Carol Gancia holds a tray of delectable confections. Photo: Courtesy Kokak Chocolates

As it marks this month its third anniversary in business at 3901 18th Street in San Francisco's Castro LGBTQ neighborhood, Kokak Chocolates is shaking up its menu items and eying expansion into breakfast and lunch options. The shop is also hosting a special drag brunch next weekend featuring its Filipino-inspired chocolates.

As she worked to open her first brick-and-mortar shop in 2020, chocolatier Carol Gancia was also fighting endometrial cancer, which begins in the uterus. Diagnosed the year prior, Gancia began her chemotherapy in the fall of 2019 and finished her treatments just as she welcomed her first customers to the former bread shop she had taken over across the street from the popular Parisian-themed Le Marais Bakery at the intersection of 18th and Sanchez streets.

"I feel like the neighborhood still doesn't know about us," said Gancia, 53, who told the Bay Area Reporter she feels like it is more the shop's second anniversary this year due to having opened in the midst of the COVID outbreak. "We lost a whole year in 2020 because of the pandemic."

Gancia, now in remission from her cancer, is switching things up at her shop. She has pared down the 50 truffle flavors she used to offer to a more manageable five to 20 flavors at most.

"We streamlined the chocolate product line and kept the most popular recipes," said Gancia, who identifies as queer and first began making chocolates for sale in 2017. "It was pretty insane. Other chocolatiers told me I was crazy."

Kokak is the Filipino word for "ribbit" or a frog's croak. Gancia's truffles are inspired by the flavors and fauna of her home country of the Philippines, where she was a successful documentarian and broadcast journalist in Manila. Gancia immigrated to the Bay Area in 2004 because her former partner wanted to move to the U.S.

She established a video production company, Ripplemakers Inc., and worked as a producer on several food-based shows, such as KQED's "Check Please! Bay Area" program that reviews local restaurants. Gancia continues to operate the company as its executive director while she also runs Kokak.

After a planned second location in San Francisco's Japantown fell through last year due to zoning issues, Gancia told the B.A.R. she is still interested in expanding at some point. During an interview last month at the Castro storefront, she said the rash of layoffs earlier this year at local tech companies had resulted in a drop off of business, with foot traffic noticeably down during weekdays.

"Last year, we were busier than this year," said Gancia, whose current lease runs through 2027.

Kokak Chocolates sells rainbow and love heart truffles. Photo: Courtesy Kokak Chocolates  

Drumming up business
To drum up business, she has added pastries and cookies to the menu, such as a chocolate chip cookie with Ecuador heirloom chocolate ($5) and a classic brownie ($5). The new items, including a chocolate cupcake with almond crumbs ($5), debuted in April.

"There is no frosting. I wanted to go back to the basics," explained Gancia. "It is part of my simplification process."

This fall she hopes to add breakfast items to the menu, such as a Japanese egg sandwich, porridge, and rice cake pancakes. Gancia is also planning more lunch offerings, like empanadas based on the ones her grandma would make for her when she was a child.

The new food options will all have "an Asian feel" to them, said Gancia, who has been testing out recipes with her friends as she fine-tunes them.

But first she needs to find an office she can rent in order to move the shipping side of her business, which accounts for 50% of her sales, out of the storefront so the space taken up for packing and addressing boxes can instead be used for customer seating.

"The idea is to grow the retail presence," said Gancia, who expects to be able to accommodate up to 20 people at a time inside the store. "I want to transition to being a cafe with a retail component."

Pride event
For Pink Saturday on June 24, she is hosting two seatings of the price-fixed drag brunch ($120 per person) featuring Asian and Pacific Islander performers. Kiki Krunch will serve as host, with performances expected by Xtina Agitera, Ehra Amaya, Lady P Galore, and Nutasha Quintine.

"Get ready to enjoy a one-of-a-kind dining experience that combines our Filipino-inspired brunch menu, live drag performances, and a whole lot of sass," promises the store.

It is one way Gancia is aiming to boost attention, and sales, for Kokak.

"The retail business is not an easy business. Even if you have a lot of business experience, each business industry is different. You have to crack the code," said Gancia.

Kokak is open 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Thursday, and open from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday to Sunday.

To book a seating for the drag brunch, or order Kokak's chocolates and special Pride-themed truffle boxes online for delivery, visit its website.

Got a tip on LGBTQ business news? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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