An interview with Rhonda Morkes Dehn, owner of Morkes Chocolates.
Q: Describe your business. What do you do?
Morkes ChocolatesAddress: 1890 N. Rand Road, Palatine 60074
Owner: Rhonda Morkes Dehn
When business started: Morkes Chocolates began in 1920 on 26th Street in Chicago. Been in Palatine since 1967.
Web address: www.morkes chocolates.com
A: We are a quality-driven, made-from-scratch chocolate and caramel apple manufacturing company. We also offer an interactive experience with chocolate-making parties at our retail stores in Palatine and Algonquin. Our manufacturing plant in Lake Zurich creates our full line of chocolates, toffees, brittles and caramel apples while the Palatine location produces hundreds of shaped chocolates which include items like hockey pucks, roses, and chocolate birthday cards along with holiday molds like Easter bunnies. In Palatine we make cake doughnuts.
Q: What made you start your business?
A: I didn't start the business but I did keep it going. After my dad and uncle retired, my oldest brother took over. By this time, I had graduated from college with a degree in dance, performed a bit, then went into sales. One Christmas, I decided to try to sell for Morkes Chocolates. That July my brother asked if I wanted to take over. At the time my brother had a growing family and financially it was challenging. Thus, my journey into business began.
Q: What has been the most difficult obstacle in running a small business?
A: Chiseling out the profit centers. It's so important to understand that sales do not mean profits and just because you feel that something is profitable doesn't mean it is, until you do your homework.
Q: What areas do you service?
A: Our local chocolate customers are mainly from a 10-mile radius. For our doughnuts, we have a lot of business people who travel by us in Palatine and stop in the morning. For our party making classes we have people that travel from Chicago and even as far as Palos Park. We also take our candy-making parties on the road for parties, business events and summer camps.
Q: Is this what you pictured yourself doing when you were young?
A: I really had no idea of what I was going to do. My dad's business was not really talked about much growing up, so I never really gave it a thought. I grew up in Oak Park so I didn't spend much time at the Palatine facility. I can remember always being interested in business, even reading Forbes magazines in my early 20s. I remember reading about the Forbes 400 in the mid 80s and thinking how interesting it was that not one of these richest people in America had a high school degree, yet they went on to become great business successes. I realized then the importance of self-education as the way to excel. They were also risk takers. I liked that.
Q: When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A: I think in second grade I wanted to be an accountant. In high school I was thinking about real estate. Then, I fell in love with dance during senior year of high school and got into the dance program at University of Illinois. For a long time I wished someone had steered me into business and kept dance as a minor. Now, though I realize two important aspects of my dance education. One, my body is strong. Two, those Improv classes really help me on a daily basis trying to come up with solutions to crazy problems and to have fun doing it.
Q: What keeps you up at night?
A: Making payroll and lack of cash flow.
Q: If you could give a tip to a rookie business owner, what would it be?
A: Be willing to work.