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History and chocolate, an unlikely recipe for success

Sip a mug of Janie Marquiss’ Mayan hot chocolate and it’s like drinking an exotic liquid chocolate bar.

Lure her to your town and it’s like striking gold. So says Jon Rose with Pope Resources, which owns the tiny company town of Port Gamble. Marquiss’ wildly popular chocolate shop, La La Land, is symbolic of the historic community’s renaissance.

Since Janie and Greg Marquiss opened up their shop in a lovingly restored historic home last July, customers have been swarming into town. And while they’re there, they often stop at the other local shops.

Back in 1995, when the lumber mill shut down, things looked pretty bleak for Port Gamble. Part of the problem was the complete lack of commercial zoning.

“The company went down to Olympia and worked on some changes to the Growth Management Act that would allow historic communities to redevelop,” said Rose, president of Pope’s Olympic Property Group. “Then we worked with Kitsap County to change its zoning laws.”

Pope got what it wanted in 2000, and the next year brought in Rose and property manager Shana Smith.

“We spent 2001 just getting used to the town,” recalled Rose. “Things really kicked in, in 2001.”

That’s when the first new business since 1920 opened up in Port Gamble: Historic Grounds espresso stand. It was followed by Ms. Bee Haven antique shop, which opened in a former butcher’s shop that had stood empty since 1916. An artists’ co-op, The Trading Company, just opened its doors in December, and plans to sublet space to O’Brien’s Sign Works.

“A transformation is taking place,” said Smith. “I have no more business or residential space left right now. The biggest thing they add is something else for people to do in Port Gamble. Now, instead of spending one hour, you’ve got something to do for three hours.”

The town has also been hosting a variety of festivals and bazaars, including the Country Christmas Bazaar, where Marquiss’ handmade truffles were selling like… well, like incredibly popular hotcakes. Her chocolates truffles had been a favorite at events around Kitsap County for years. Janie created them and Greg, a telecommuting programmer for EDS, handled the sales. One day, a phone call came that changed their lives.

“Shana called and said ‘we have a house available,’” said Marquiss. “Our clientele had been screaming for a storefront for the last two to three years, but we just didn’t want to step out there — we weren’t sure how it would work.”

How it would work is that the Marquiss family moved from Poulsbo into the historic home, business skyrocketed, and Marquiss became one of Port Gamble’s Number One boosters.

“I went into this thinking if four people a day came in the door, I’d be happy,” laughed Marquiss. “It’s been astronomical. We have about 20-25 a day, and they’re buying dozens of truffles at a time.”

Business has increased 100 percent since Marquiss opened her doors. By popular demand, she recently added a Chocolate High Tea to her repertoire, served in an elegant sitting room. Janie, Greg, and their two youngest children live upstairs. For $14.95, customers get a three-tier service of traditional British-style finger sandwiches, homemade scones, and a dessert of, what else, sinfully silky chocolate fondue.

Tea is served every day from 9 to 5 except Wednesday, which is reserved for large groups. Reservations are required.

Rose has nothing but praise for Marquiss: “It’s been wonderful having La La Land there. She’s brought new energy to the town, and her operation is really fitting in with Port Gamble.”

Added Smith: “She’s my own little marketing tool. She’s always out there saying you should take a look at space in Port Gamble.”

Even if there’s not much space left. But that’s changing, too. Another historic house — they’re all historic in Port Gamble — is being renovated into a four-room inn and public dining room, set to open this summer. Guess who’s running the inn and restaurant? Port Gamble’s favorite chocolatier, who has a background in hotel and restaurant management. Also in the works is a restoration of the 1888 Walker Ames home, which will become a conference room with a small inn upstairs. Also to be run by Marquiss.

Doesn’t she ever want a day off?

“Oh, it’s no big deal,” she said, sounding surprised at the question. “I’m Italian by heritage, so I love to cook and make people happy.”.

 
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