Longtime chocolatier loses company for good

Bernard Callebaut's bid to keep his company has failed, with a receiver recommending that the business's assets be sold off.
The factory, corporate stores, recipes and brand belonging to Bernard Callebaut will now change hands to a numbered company backed by a former Callebaut employee. ((CBC))

Bernard Callebaut's bid to keep his company has failed.

The high-end chocolate business that bears his name went into receivership in August, with ATB Financial claiming Callebaut owed close to $4 million.

Receiver Deloitte and Touche recommended last week that the company's assets be sold to a numbered company backed by former Callebaut vice-president of operations Brian Beck and a dealer with three stores in Edmonton.

Callebaut and his lawyers contested that bid Wednesday, but on Thursday a judge rejected Callebaut's attempt to buy the business back.

The judge found the receiver followed all appropriate regulations, and that the two bidding parties were working a level playing field.

Callebaut, who started his business in Calgary in the early 1980s, struggled to maintain his composure while speaking to reporters outside of court.

"For all the staff that have been with us, like more than 20 years, … it's like family, and suddenly … it's difficult," said Callebaut, a fourth-generation chocolatier originally from Belgium.

While he "cannot feel good" about the decision, Callebaut said it's time to move forward.

He told reporters that making chocolates is what he does, that he expects to make an announcement in the next few weeks and that "we will be back in the chocolate business."

He said he's already working on new recipes.

Chocolate brand lives on

Beck said that his group intends to use the Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut brand.

"We bought a turnkey business. So some of the assets that are included are the trade names and trademarks, and we'll be continuing on a seamless basis," Beck said.

"The receiver wanted to sell everything that was there, and what was there included the factory, the eight corporate stores, the relationship with the dealers, and it also included certain naming rights."

Bernard Callebaut had embarked on an ambitious expansion plan that foundered. ((CBC))

Beck said the buyers intend to keep on all the former employees and even hire back some people who lost their jobs because of the receivership.

"There's a real human element to the whole thing," said Beck, who was with Callebaut for about 2½ years.

"Certainly I have a lot of feeling about Bernard and his situation ... but I think at the same time, the business has been the life's work of a number of people. So what I'm focused on is being able to keep going forward for other people who depend on the business."

Explaining the receivership in August, Callebaut said the economic slump devalued some land he had purchased for a new factory.

That news came less than three months after the privately owned company embarked on an ambitious expansion and investment plan.

In May, Callebaut was looking to raise $6.5 million to makeover existing stores, jump into the wholesale market and open new locations in Canada.