There are many ways to be a disruptor, an innovator. Some use technology; some work through politics. Ebru Ipekci ’93 does it with chocolate.
The Istanbul native worked at Chase Manhattan briefly after Babson, but it wasn’t a fit. “I wanted to be in a business that has no boundaries. I wanted to create something,” she says.
Noticing an unfilled niche in the Turkish marketplace, she started writing cookbooks, teaming up with a partner who had trained at Le Cordon Bleu. The cookbooks led to wider culinary ambitions. “There were no specialty bakeries in Turkey,” says Ipekci. “So we said, ‘OK, let’s create a French bakery.’”
The shop, called Butterfly, opened in 2003 and was an immediate success—so much so that a slew of imitators followed. Looking to innovate, Ipekci began offering a line of high-end, handmade chocolates that eventually eclipsed the pastries. Today, she says, Butterfly is “probably the biggest handmade chocolate business in Turkey.” They still sell pastries—but exclusively chocolate ones. Ipekci was deeply involved in designing her four stylish Istanbul shops, the newest of which opened in March.
Butterfly offers the kind of fashion-forward creations you would expect to find in Paris or New York. Ipekci, whose interests extend to art, design, architecture, and technology, creates new chocolate collections several times a year, reflecting seasonal ingredients and trends in design. She has drawn inspiration from sources as disparate as chia seeds and Turkish Iznik tiles. For her most recent New Year’s collection, flavors included gingerbread, tahini, cinnamon gianduja, and apple caramel.
A consistent best-seller pairs chocolate with pistachios from Gaziantep, the Turkish city famous for those nuts. But Ipekci always tries to push the envelope. “Buckwheat is very popular in French pastry,” she says. “We did it this season—buckwheat with dark chocolate. I loved it, but it didn’t sell much.” That doesn’t trouble her; she knows that educating customers’ palates—part of her role as an innovator—can be a process.
Looking ahead, Ipekci is excited about improving her online presence and incorporating more technology into the business, making it easier to shop on the website and adding worldwide shipping capability. “The sky’s the limit,” she says. “This is what I like about this business. There are no bounda-ries. I keep thinking of new things that haven’t been done.”