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Chocolate shop enjoying rich business
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David Senk, right, takes orders at Arête Fine Chocolate at 172 College Street in Spencer. The chocolate shop is open for retail customers every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. - photo by Hansel Moore

Who is the sweetest couple in Spencer, Tennessee?

Hands down it is David and Leslie Senk of “The Little Chocolate Shop in Spencer.”  

For a long time, local residents watched and waited with great anticipation as the historic Haston Block building was resurrected and repurposed as the production center and home of Arête Fine Chocolate.   

“It took a long time for us to decide on the name,” said David. “We really wanted it to encompass who we are and what we are doing.”

The definition “arête” (ah-reh-tay), is a good way to describe the philosophy of the owners: 1. Excellence, virtue 2. Life as a journey 3. Striving to live up to one’s fullest potential 4. Reaching for the stars in all that you do.

The Van Buren County community is the winner of the fortunate decision for relocation to Middle Tennessee. Of all the buildings and places David and Leslie could have chosen, how did they end up in Spencer? 

They wanted to be closer to family so they began their search for a place to call home that would allow them to be close to grandchildren. The location had to be receptive to business ventures and allow them to be part of a community while they enjoyed doing what they love -- making chocolate.

During their extensive search, the Senks found the Haston Block building located on the historic Spencer Square.  They were able to see the potential in rescuing an integral part of Spencer history and becoming an essential part of the area’s future.

“We have really tried to maintain as much of the original structure as possible,” said David. “Business wise, it probably would have been cheaper to tear down the building and build a new one, but there is so much that is unique about the building.”

The solid brick shop with large welcoming windows has been a bank, general store, church, shoe store, video rental, and a number of other retail ventures. The address is 172 College Street in Spencer with retail hours every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The lower level is where the melting, molding, and magic turns select cocoa beans into the final product of exceptional chocolate delight. The entire process takes days to perform and is quality checked throughout each step.

Leslie said, “One of the things that we had to adjust to is the humidity here in Tennessee. We had low humidity in California, but here it much higher.” The environmental differences have necessitated some adjustments and purchase of new equipment.

The silver mixers spin, as if in a choreographed dance routine. The smell of sweet creations permeates the air as Leslie tends to the chocolate in process and explains the basics to visitors. David greets the continuous stream of visitors throughout the day.  

Said David, “We really didn’t know what to expect. Were we going to have two visitors or 200? Our original intent was not to have a retail aspect to the business. This is all pretty new us. Our entire business has been wholesale, and to a lesser extent, internet based, and that was the original plan. But as we got to know the community, and met people, we decided that we wanted to connect locally with the business.”  

So, the decision was made to do some limited retail, and “The Little Chocolate Shop in Spencer” was born. If the response of those visiting and taste testing was any indication, the Senks have formulated the recipe for mouth-watering success. Happy customers leave the establishment with a variety of treats including cookies, bars of chocolate, and packs of a tantalizing item called candied cocoa nibs.

Two tables, surrounded by chairs, welcome visitors to relax, converse with friends and enjoy the view of historic Spencer Square.  

At the end of the day, going home doesn’t take long. Dave and Leslie turn off the lights and retreat up the spiral staircase to their residence on the second floor. A major part of the extensive renovation included the unique living quarters that was updated with modern conveniences, with historic integrity in the final design. As the dust begins to settle both literally and figuratively, the Senks are able to enjoy their new home on the mountain. 

Cocoa-mania is just beginning as there are many ideas to expand the business venture.  

“We would like to eventually expand the front area and have tables for people to sit and enjoy sorbet, and possibly some live music,” said David as he stood on the porch area that has existed for generations. 

If you are interested in learning more about the origin and progression of Arête Fine Chocolate, visit aretefinechocolate.com.