When Dude, Sweet Chocolate opened in Bishop Arts in 2009, it was ahead of its time — a chef-driven chocolate shop creating outside-the-box confections with all the grit, creativity and imagination of public-facing chef-owner Katherine Clapner.
Dude, Sweet expanded by opening a shop in Fort Worth in 2012, a Lower Greenville location in 2013 and a Plano store in 2015. Last year, the Fort Worth location closed. Now, Dude, Sweet is tightening its belt further; both the Lower Greenville and Plano locations will close on Sunday, Clapner says. The only remaining shop will be Dude, Sweet's flagship store in Bishop Arts and the Inwood Road kitchen where the chocolate creations are made and where Clapner will soon be hosting new events and classes.
High rents and low traffic led to the decision to close all of the chocolate shop's satellite shops, Clapner says.
"It's been hard," Clapner says. "Those stores have just bled us dry."
Opening the satellite stores and expanding too quickly were "one of my greatest mistakes," Clapner says.
"Plano was riddled with street closures, construction, the 15th Street exit blocked, stores that aren’t open consistent hours," Clapner says. "And then Greenville’s just bars and restaurants. Greenville was kind of like Fort Worth in the sense that it’s the fruit of the poison tree. There's so many things that have gone wrong. Parking is my nemesis.
"People will valet for food and drink, but not chocolate," she says of Lowest Greenville, which has long struggled with parking. "It never really came back from that. It did really well at Christmas, but where the fuck was everybody the rest of the year?"
Now, Dude, Sweet is adjusting its mission. Without as many stores to manage, Clapner will be back in the kitchen cooking more and focusing her energy on the Bishop Arts store, as well as private events and classes. She plans more creative endeavors, rather than just stocking multiple retail locations with well-known fan favorites.
"To survive, we’re gonna have to change who we are as well as go back to who we were," she says. "I'm looking forward to cooking again" and to creating "stuff with no rhyme or reason, no other point than I just feel like making it come out of here [the Bishop Arts store] again."
Despite parking issues, construction and the continued struggle of local retail nationwide, Clapner says she's "not playing the blame game" regarding the stores' closure. High rents make multiple locations an increasingly risky endeavor, she says.
"I think we made a mistake — it was too much," she says. "I just think we should have looked at how we could generate more money out of less places. You live and you learn."
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Despite the closures, Clapner is optimistic about the future of Dude, Sweet.
"The thing that sets us apart, I believe, is that beauty and consistency," she says, "and the fact that we sample and we’re approachable.
"Our goal is to continue the business," Clapner says. "We are optimistic."
Dude, Sweet's first new event, an "old-school vs. new school" tea party, will be held at the Inwood "mothership" kitchen on Saturday, Jan. 19.