For Wendy Lieu, a first generation American whose parents were boat people from Vietnam, opening a chocolate café in San Francisco seemed like a whimsical pipe dream. Lieu found herself at the age of 19 selling homemade chocolates at a farmers’ market in Santa Rosa, CA. She, along with her sister, Susan Lieu, the business and marketing guru behind Socola, later started selling their chocolates—in flavors such as sriracha, guava, and ca phe sua (Vietnamese coffee)—wholesale to specialty shops and supermarkets.
Socola is the word for chocolate in Vietnamese, a nod to Lieu’s Chinese Vietnamese heritage. In 1982, her parents fled Vietnam and spent two years in a refugee camp in Kuala Lumpur—where Wendy was born—before they eventually settled in Emeryville, CA. In 2014, Lieu and her sister opened Socola Chocolatier + Barista on Folsom Street in San Francisco. Socola’s award-winning handcrafted artisanal confections with modern flavors has garnered significant press, including articles in the San Francisco Chronicle, Forbes, and Huffington Post.
What inspired you all to create this company?
Socola Chocolatier was founded in 2001 by two Vietnamese-American sisters with a simple wish: to create treats that tasted like home.
As children of refugees, we lived in dual worlds, neither Vietnamese nor American enough. As much as we wanted to fit into one category, our hyphenated identities was actually what made us special. So then we owned it. At the age of 16 and 19, we started experimenting in our kitchen with ingredients that tasted like home and spent our summers selling chocolates in front of our parents’ nail salon. Channeling our immigrant hustle, we spent the last 18 years building an award-winning company flavor by flavor and now have a San Francisco storefront to boot.
What distinguishes your company and product in the market?
We create the world’s most unique, handcrafted small-batch confections that straddle our Eastern and Western identities: truffles with flavors like jasmine tea, Vietnamese coffee, burnt caramel with sea salt and even durian; chocolate bars infused with matcha, pop rocks and raspberries, and Kheer, a South Asian delight; confections such as matcha almond dragées and Bear Hugs with handmade marshmallows and a kiss of caramel.
We are Socola Chocolatier. “Socola,” which means “chocolate” in Vietnamese, is our base ingredient to chronicle the heritage we came from. Our flavors take us to a place of comfort that can only be described as home and we wish the same for our customers.