PORT ORCHARD — A familiar downtown chocolatier’s months-long absence from Bay Street will soon come to an end.
Later this month, Carter & Co. Chocolates once again will sell its popular baked goods, ice cream and pastries to shoppers and visitors in downtown Port Orchard. Owners Matt Carter and John Strasinger, partners in life and business, are busily working to transform the former That One Bakery space at 707 Bay St. into an expanded chocolate bistro that will pick up where their old shop inside the Port Orchard Public Market left off.
Their business at the public market was curtailed when landlord Abadan Holdings elected not to renew Carter & Co.’s lease following a fractious relationship between Carter and some of the other tenants there. As a result, Carter & Co. vacated the premises when the lease ended Sept. 30 and relocated shop furnishings to their other existing location at Westbay Center.
The partners looked at some properties in Bremerton in which to relocate, but leasing rates there are more expensive. Ultimately they decided to stay in Port Orchard, if at all possible.
“I really didn’t want to leave the community,” Carter said. “The people here have been so supportive and so great. They didn’t want us to leave, and I didn’t want to disappoint them.”
Sometime after Carter & Co. vacated its space in the public market and had equipment moved to Westbay, Abadan Holdings asked its broker to reestablish contact with Carter and offer other properties to lease. The former bakery location, which has been vacant for several years now, was available for long-term lease.
The favorable lease terms were enough to snag Carter and Strasinger.
What the Westbay site offered in extra storage and space to bake, it lacked in customer traffic. By contrast, Carter said, the new location has plenty of the former — 2,500 square feet of space — and more foot traffic, including their regular customers, who traverse up and down Bay Street.
“My main concern was that I wanted a long-term lease,” Carter said. “All I was able to get from them before was a one-year lease.”
The timing of the move was unfortunate for the business owners, however.
“I wish we could have done that at the time when our old lease expired,” he said.
“It would have saved us $10,000 in lost business and moving expenses.”
But as he said while multitasking at the Westbay site, “It’s water under the bridge, and here we are. We’re going to have a lovely ongoing relationship with Abadan.”
There have been a few minor glitches in their race to open — the heat and the hot water aren’t on at the moment — but that hasn’t stopped Carter and Strasinger from painting and cleaning the otherwise move-in-ready space.
They are aiming for a reopening just prior to Valentine’s Day, which is one of the busiest selling days for a chocolate shop.
But if that’s not possible — the owners say there could be equipment installation delays — they’re nonetheless just happy to be back on Bay Street.
“I still have a tiny ray of hope that we can get in a week before Valentine’s Day,” Carter said.
“But whenever it happens, it happens. I’m so tired of telling myself something is going to happen, and it doesn’t. And then I’m disappointed.”
Carter said they will close the Westbay location when the new Bay Street shop opens.
“The only reason we had (the business) there was because we didn’t have space or temperature control over there (at the public market),” he said.
“I couldn’t make chocolates there. There wasn’t enough room or electricity to run the ice cream machine and five freezers I had. But down here, there’s tons of space.”
The extra space and large kitchen area provide plenty of growth opportunities for Carter’s business, including an expanded food menu.
He said that Strasinger’s popular black cod chowder will return to the menu, as will grilled-to-order panini sandwiches made with home-baked focaccia bread.
Carter & Co. also will offer freshly baked cinnamon rolls when the shop opens each morning at 9 a.m. He also expects to sell an assortment of muffins and other pastries, as well as baguettes and rustic bread loaves.
An assortment of salads, including macaroni salad, will be available for purchase.
Following what is expected to be a hectic opening week, Carter said they’ll have an open house later this spring at 707 Bay St. for the Port Orchard community, especially the downtown business people, to let them get a close look at the new space.