A Blue Springs-dipped chocolate shop isn’t just selling show-stopping sweets, it’s unwrapping a community-coated adventure for a local mom — eight years in the making.
“I feel more a part of this community than I ever have before,” said Jessica Washburn, co-owner of Bliss Chocolatier, an artisan chocolate boutique dedicated to crafting a number of treats from bonbons to chocolate bars.
“I really felt like this was a business that was needed in this area,” she continued, pointing out luxury experiences like fine chocolate shouldn’t be limited to downtown Kansas City or the Johnson County-area.
“As a busy mom of six kids, I don’t want to have to drive into the city every time I want to pick up a nice chocolate gift for somebody or to treat myself.”
Washburn’s neighbors agreed, eagerly welcoming the launch of Bliss Chocolatier in late 2019 — a joint venture that also includes the work and support of her mother and business partner, Pat Jarstad.
“I was just working out of my home, making chocolate [in limited batches.] We would do it for holidays or if I had an idea for a batch of flavors,” she said of the company’s confectionery beginnings, which were almost immediately halted by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When everything was shut down, we just kind of stopped because we didn’t have any overhead. Instead of trying to scramble, we just took a step back and waited to see how things were going to shake out.”
The pair found their answer more quickly than expected, as online orders continued to trickle in, prompting them to seek out a commercial kitchen — which ultimately resulted in the opening of a retail space late last fall, Washburn recalled.
“I think our community believes the same thing I believe,” she said. “There was a hole in this market and we were lucky enough to be the ones who got to fill it. … Almost every day someone will walk in and say, ‘Oh, we’re so glad you’re here,’ and I think that is huge.”
Since the shop opened, community support has only increased, Washburn said, noting a wildly successful holiday season, followed immediately by a boost from the Kansas City Chiefs return to the Super Bowl, and one of its biggest draws of the year — Valentine’s Day.
The lovers’ holiday brought Washburn a bonbon boon thanks to a mention in the Washington Post.
“The first Sunday in February, I took a little bit of a nap and when I woke up we had 25 or 30 orders from our website in 40 minutes,” she recalled of the discovery, found to be the result of Bliss Chocolatier landing on a list of nationwide companies selling the best chocolate.
“We get orders every day from the website — but not like that, in that amount of time. We ended up having to take the bonbons off our website because they were just going so quickly. We wouldn’t have had any for the store that week.”
After 35 hours in the kitchen, Washburn fulfilled the orders late last week — a testament to her commitment to produce treats that are as beautiful as they are tasty.
“I always start with the flavor first. The design is secondary,” she said, detailing her recipe creation process, which plays heavily on influences from such other desserts as cherry cheesecake and lemon meringue pie.
“When you bite into our cherry cheesecake bonbon, you should know its cherry cheesecake flavored. You shouldn’t have to look at the menu card. I really want those flavors to come through.”
Click here to browse Wasburn’s latest batch of confections or to place an order.
From texture to flavor to technique and color, mastering chocolate-making isn’t easy, Washburn said — but it is fun, and it’s reopened creative doors she closed after leaving behind a career in newborn photography after her husband took a job in the metro eight years ago.
“I really felt like my family needed my focus. They were having a hard time with the transition and the longer I was out of [the photography business] the less it felt like the right move for me to jump back into it,” she recalled, noting the family hails from New York, which fosters a much different type of photography market than the Kansas City area.
“I would have had to really shake up my business model and be a very different kind of photographer and that didn’t really appeal to me as much. So I started kind of thinking, ‘Well, what do I do?’”
Happiest when she has a problem to solve or a new skill to learn, Washburn set out to do something food-related, first tossing around the idea of launching a food blog.
“I love to cook and I love to bake … then I remembered, I don’t like reading food blogs,” she laughed, adding a second option she considered was pastry school, but it would have taken too much time away from her family.
As Washburn continued her search for new challenges, a chance visit to Kansas City-based Christopher Elbow Chocolates broke the mold, ultimately resulting in her enrollment in an online, professional chocolatier program.
“I had never seen chocolate like that. I didn’t know that it could taste that good and be that beautiful, so when I found this chocolatier program that was really exciting,” she said, noting the experience opened a number of pathways that have kept her busy and helped shape her mission as a business owner.
“I began getting interested in chocolate itself — where its grown, the chocolate-making process, how that fits into the global economy, the social justice of how we’re treating and paying the farmers. … I think I checked out every book in our public library about chocolate.”
Bringing such a sense of education to her community is Washburn’s next goal, as Bliss Chocolatier settles into its Blue Springs brick and mortar routine and continues to find its footing with cacao-craving customers.
“We’d like to offer some hands-on classes [as well as] some chocolate education classes — all those things I got really excited about when I learned about chocolate,” she said, teasing such offerings as specialized tastings and additional product rollouts that could include ice cream and drinking chocolate.
“I think it’s going to increase this feeling of community with our customers. I’ve always liked living here, but now I love Blue Springs,” she said.
“I’m getting to know so many people and I feel so connected to our community through this business which is just really wonderful.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.