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The Sweet Success Story of Cathy Brand-Beere as She Took a Chance on Her Dreams and Built a Fort Wayne Chocolate Empire, DeBrand Fine Chocolates

In the heart of Fort Wayne, Indiana, lies a chocolate lover's paradise known as DeBrand Fine Chocolates. This beloved local chocolate shop has captured residents' and visitors' hearts and taste buds thanks to its exquisite creations and commitment to excellence. Behind this sweet success story is Cathy Brand-Beere, the visionary founder who turned her passion for creating chocolate treats into a thriving empire. Join us as we delve into the inspiring journey of Cathy and the legacy she has built with DeBrand. When describing what DeBrand is today, Cathy said,

"It's a gift that brings happiness to people from young children to the elderly, and it's really for any occasion. It's also an affordable luxury. Not everyone can afford the most luxurious car or vacation, but this is a luxury that almost everyone can afford. We always strive for excellence, and I love that DeBrand has been something in which Fort Wayne and surrounding residents have taken pride. Whether by visiting our shop or having our chocolate shipped to their friends and family throughout the country or even worldwide. So it's been nice to see the pride people take in their local chocolate shop."


Cathy Brand-Beere spent her early childhood just north of Fort Wayne where her siblings grew up, but when she was eight years old, she along with her parents moved to the area where she would now grow up in a home off Wells Street. When describing her childhood, Cathy said,

"It was a great childhood. I had six siblings who were much older, so I was like an only child, but I still had siblings. I was by far the youngest, and my parents were trusting in general, but they had already raised six kids, so they gave me a little more freedom growing up. A lot of times, parents with an only child are overprotective, but in my case, it was like the best of every world."

When Cathy was only eight, she began working with chocolate at her parents' cake decorating, candy making, and wedding supply store, Country Kitchen. She enjoyed using the supplies from the store to create jewelry, cakes, and candies and selling them to her school friends. Having the opportunity to grow up with entrepreneurial parents, Cathy told us how much she enjoyed watching her parents run a small business with hard work and integrity. Today, Country Kitchen is run by Cathy's niece, so the company is still in the family.

Cathy graduated from North Side High School, and although she had always dreamt of opening her own chocolate shop, she felt she needed to get a 'real job,' so she started her career as an architectural drafter. After a few years, Brand-Beere began creating a series of booklets featuring sweets and recipes made with products from Country Kitchen. Then, in October 1987, Cathy went all in on her dreams. She took everything she had saved over the last several years, purchased used cases, ingredients, and equipment, and officially opened her chocolate shop, DeBrand. In the beginning, Cathy created and sold the chocolates she made from her childhood home. We asked what her first menu options were, and she said,

"I remember I was in an airport somewhere, and I started a list of what I wanted to start with. I wrote down caramels, orange creme, mocha cream, and caramel pecan something. I kind of started off that list, and a few of those things are still offered today. We didn't have as many products then as we do now, but it was enough to get started."

As we discussed the challenges in the beginning stages of DeBrand, Brand-Beere said,

"I would say everything was a challenge in the beginning. Many things are challenging even now, but that's part of the fun. Business is like a game where you have to strategize and try your best to win. I could tell you a million challenges, like how every product we make you wouldn't believe how every little step has to be just right or something will look or taste wrong. You just have to know that challenges are part of the deal."

A year after starting the business, Cathy married Tim Beere, and together, they continued to work in the company. In 2002, they opened the DeBrand chocolate kitchen and storefront off Auburn Road, and that location is still the central hub that creates, distributes, and invents new products today. Over the years, Cathy and Tim had three daughters, all of whom grew up within the walls of DeBrand, learning and tasting all the delicious treats, just as Cathy did at her parents' business growing up.

Excellence and quality have been the standards Cathy has lived by since the creation of DeBrand. To ensure she is always living up to these standards, Cathy has traveled the world to find the best ingredients and to get inspiration from countries known for their chocolatier abilities. We asked what her favorite destinations have been throughout her travels, and she told us from a chocolate standpoint that Belgium, Switzerland, and Paris stand out among the rest. She shared that there was a time she was on a street corner in Belgium, with five chocolate shops gracing a single street.

As we talked about the different chocolates and treats that have held a spot within the DeBrand showcase, we asked Cathy if she is the leading visionary behind each new item; she said,

"I would say I'm the visionary for the business and the products, but I do have a small team of people who are involved in the process. They are involved in brainstorming and experimenting in the kitchen, and that's a team of about three or four, including me. New products take about 30-40 attempts before we are happy with the results, but even at that point, it may fail the time test for shelf life, so if that happens, we can't do it. So there is a lot that goes into creating each piece that most people don't realize."

Although there is no concrete number of items that can be offered, Cathy says she has to eliminate items almost as fast as she adds new ones. The challenge with removing items from the menu is that oftentimes, it's still someone's favorite, so there is a lot of thought before something gets taken out of the case indefinitely.

When it comes to seasonal treats, caramel apples stand out as a staple for DeBrand, loved by everyone who has tried one. The delicious apples are sourced from an orchard in the state of Washington, so although they come out every fall, there is no designated day they go on display. Once the apples are picked and packed, it takes four days before they receive them at their Auburn Road kitchen. Cathy says the caramel apples are so highly anticipated every year that it almost feels like a holiday itself. As we were talking about the seasonal treats, it led us to ask what is the busiest day of the year for DeBrand, and she said the most active days of the year would be February 13th and 14th, but the busiest time of the year is definitely Christmas. Although the shops are packed full of customers needing Valentine's Day treats, Christmas shoppers are visiting DeBrand locations buying gifts for multiple loved ones for weeks leading up to the holidays.

 Debrand in Fort Wayne, IN is constantly pushing the boundaries of what candy can be. They quickly gained a reputation for their innovative creations and attention to detail, which set them apart from other candy makers and businesses in the area.  Their candy shop quickly became a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. The shop is known for its Fine Chocolate and the best candy you can buy!

Today, people nationwide can find DeBrand chocolates in their local stores year round because about 15 years ago, Cathy decided to expand their products into the wholesale market. All products sold in stores are made, packed, and shipped from their central hub, and when we asked Brand-Beere about the challenges of expanding into wholesale, she said,

"We went into wholesale when I was ready for something new. I wouldn't say it was a hard transition, but it was a lot of figuring things out and a lot of work, which I also think is fun and exciting. That's what I like to do: try new things. There's no difference for me really between creating a new product or starting a new division for the company. It's challenging and fun. We got most of our early wholesale clients from booths at trade shows, and for the first 2-3 years, I worked every booth, which was quite a few each year, to get started before I turned it over to others who did a great job with it. Fortunately, before COVID, we had changed our approach to getting new business and decided to slow down or stop doing trade shows altogether, so thankfully, when COVID hit, we had not been signed up for any trade shows. We changed our approach because when we would go to a lot of the trade shows, it would be the same people who already buy our products, so they could just email or call us with their orders. So I was like, okay, let's change our mindset to get new business. It was fun. Starting a business, creating new products, or opening a new division are all part of the creative process of figuring things out, and I really enjoy it."

We asked Cathy how DeBrand handled all the challenges that came with COVID-19, and she said their motto throughout that time was 'adapt and change.' Since regulations were changing on what felt like a daily basis, she and her team were always ready to change things up if needed if it meant they could continue doing what they loved: creating and selling chocolate.

Today, all three of the Brand-Beere daughters work for the company, with one in line to take over when Cathy is ready to retire, but she hopes that doesn't happen for a long time because she is still having fun. As for the company's future, Cathy hopes to continue providing nothing but excellence to their customers and to continue creating new products and divisions if it makes sense for the company.

Cathy Brand-Beere's journey from a chocolate enthusiast to becoming the founder of DeBrand is a testament to the power of following one's passion. Her unwavering commitment to excellence, innovation, and quality has made DeBrand a true gem in Fort Wayne and beyond. As you savor each bite of a DeBrand chocolate, you can't help but appreciate the sweet success story behind it all. To finish our conversation, we asked Cathy what advice she would give an entrepreneur hoping to start their own business; she said,

"I would say if you love it and you're sure you want to take on the work and time to do it, do it. If you don't love it, don't do it because you have to put in a lot of work and time to succeed. Business was my hobby. Well, I have two things: business and family. I had no time for anything else, so I was fine that it was pretty much my life; I loved it."
Fort Wayne, Indiana is home to a thriving chocolate entrepreneur who has made a name for themselves in the local business community. This entrepreneur, whose name is known to many chocolate lovers in the area, has built a successful business around their passion for creating delicious and unique chocolate treats.  The entrepreneur started their journey by experimenting with different flavors and ingredients, constantly pushing the boundaries of what chocolate and candy can be. Debrand quickly gained a reputation for their innovative creations and attention to detail, which set them apart from other chocolatiers and candy shops in the area.

We want to send a huge thank you to Cathy Brand-Beere for taking the time to share her entrepreneurial journey with us as she created DeBrand. We also want to thank Nike with Creative Roots Media for capturing the photos you see throughout the article. If you enjoy reading the stories of entrepreneurs helping to shape Fort Wayne, one business at a time, subscribe to our free monthly newsletter so you're always in the loop about what's happening here at the Fort Wayne Business Journal.


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