Spring Summer 07

The Core


Living Legacy

Doc of Ages

Tour de Force


Editor's Note

Vox Populi

Ocean's Informants

Transcripts: Leaping from the 18th Century to the 21st

Secret History

Big Shoulders, Helping Hand

C'est Si Bon Bon

Oxford and Upward

Go Ask Alumni

Beyond the Quads

C'est Si Bon Bon

Through creative marketing and serendipity, Charlene Dupray traded her business suits for a wacky hat and the title "Charlene the Bon Bon Queen."

It wasn't long ago that Charlene Dupray, AB'94, was living the life of a high-powered young professional in New York City. As a recruiter of bilingual employees for international corporations, "I worked 60 or 70 hours a week, in a business suit every day," she recalls, "but I just didn't feel fulfilled." So Dupray and her husband, Frenchman Pascal Siegler, then maitre d' at A-list restaurant Daniel, decided to start over in her hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina. "We knew that we would be leaving behind those big paychecks and coming down here with no paychecks and a very limited nest egg on which we were going to start our company."

The company, originally intended as an upscale event-planning service, has evolved into South 'n France, a chocolatier specializing in hand-dipped bon bons that marry the confectionary traditions of France and the American South. The bon bons were created as a marketing tool to promote the planning service, but soon became so popular that they overtook the business. The original four flavors— coconut, chocolate-chip cookie dough, fudge brownie, and peanut buttah (a family recipe combining crunchy and smooth peanut butters with finely chopped dates and cherries)—made their official debut at the Carolina Chocolate Festival in February 2006, and in September won Best New Chocolate Product at the 114th Philadelphia National Candy Show.

Although South 'n France has been in the candy business a short time, its story begins in 1993 with a University of Chicago study abroad program. Dupray, a psychology major who had fallen in love with France during a quarter in the countryside her first year, decided to spend her third year in Paris. Within five days of her arrival, she sought out a cabaret where she could practice her singing skills, but finding her chosen venue was closed, she wandered into an ice cream shop where Siegler was working. "I was fortunate enough that on my very first try I found the cabaret where I ended up singing for an entire year, and little did I know I would also find my husband," she says. The pair wed in 2001.

Although geography forced the couple's relationship to move slowly, their company has done quite the opposite. When Dupray signed up for a booth at the Carolina Chocolate Festival last year, South 'n France wasn't even in business yet. "We didn't even have any real company signage," she remembers. "I said, 'We're going to look like the Girl Scouts, standing next to a bake sale table.'" By recruiting family and friends, they were able to produce 16,000 bon bons in three weeks, and Dupray came up with a creative marketing gimmick, donning a crazy pink hat with a cake on top—a relic from her cabaret act. It worked like a charm and South 'n France sold 6,000 bon bons the first day.

In 2007 the company added pistachio and cookies 'n creme to its roster of flavors, but expansion is not a priority. "When you're Baskin-Robbins, it's okay to have 31 flavors," Dupray contends. "But when you're 'South 'n France who? Bon bons what?' you don't want to overwhelm people with too many choices." For now, the company is focusing on its current product line and special services like singing telegrams and bon-bonmaking parties, where clients experience firsthand the laborious candy-making process, including putting the bon bon dough on a small needle and hand-dipping it in chocolate. "When the public sees that little round bon bon," Dupray says, "they can't imagine what went into it."—C.R.