Sue Williams, MD, is an experienced internist and hospitalist who actively practices medicine at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. Though her day job is indeed impressive, over the past decade, she has spent much of her free time turning a hobby into a business. In early 2014, she officially opened up a chocolate shop on Main Street in Grapevine. Ever since, Williams has successfully balanced her time between a busy medical career and her second passion: creating all-natural, dark chocolate treats.
Williams grew up on a farm near Abilene. Her childhood in the Texas countryside meant that she got plenty of experience helping her family with various tasks. “I’ve always loved to cook and entertain,” she said. “I learned that from my mother who was a wonderful cook.” She particularly enjoyed helping her mom make holiday treats for local friends. The indoor chores were not what really sparked her childhood interests, but rather the cowgirl life she lived outdoors. Williams participated in 4-H showing horses. In fact, throughout her undergraduate studies at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, she dreamed of becoming an agricultural agent. However, that particular industry at the time was governed by men, with little likelihood of an available position being awarded to a woman.
As suggested by her uncle, Williams pursued a career in medicine. She graduated from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and completed her residency in internal medicine through the UT Southwestern – Parkland Health & Hospital System. Known widely by her patients (and customers) as simply Dr. Sue, she has now enjoyed a successful medical career for over 20 years.
Becoming a Chocolatier
After her daughter graduated high school and went to college, Williams started searching for a relaxing yet unique vacation activity. For years she had enjoyed cooking for friends, impressing them with her decadent chocolate desserts, so she decided to attend a chocolate academy in Chicago as her getaway of choice. Her lifelong love of chocolate confections quickly blossomed into a full-blown passion for dark chocolate. “Chocolate is magical,” Williams said. “It’s rich and decadent, satiny and fluid. It’s governed by science but is a real art. Frankly, it just makes people happy.” Once she returned home, her experiments in chocolate out of her home continued to impress her friends, quickly growing into a full-grown business. She rented space from a caterer friend, but that did not last long. As demand grew and word spread, she searched for a brick-and-mortar home for her chocolate operations, eventually deciding to open a shop on Main Street in Grapevine.
“I looked all over for the right place to open a shop,” Williams said. “When I saw Grapevine, it just felt like home. There is a real sense of community.” While trying to make the final call, she watched folks explore and enjoy the quaint area from her perch at AJ’s On Main. The owner, AJ Gillinger, told Williams “how the other restaurateurs had welcomed him and loaned him equipment while he was getting started. I wanted to be a part of a place like this.” She soon had a 1,200-square-foot piece of Main Street real estate to call her own.
A Healthier Option
While Williams certainly feels a strong affinity toward her role as a chocolatier, she did not desire to give up her career in medicine. So, she forged ahead making both passions a priority. With her dark chocolate products, she aims “to inspire people to a healthier lifestyle through the all-natural dark chocolate.”
When it comes to consuming chocolate, it is wise to read labels as not all chocolates are equal. According to Williams on her website, “Dr. Sue’s Chocolate believes all-natural chocolate offers a richly decadent yet more healthful and beneficial confection. She emphasizes the importance of premium quality, all-natural ingredients without preservatives or artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners.” Her chocolates are made in small batches with fresh, organic ingredients.
When customers purchase from Dr. Sue’s Chocolate, they can feel confident they are supporting local farmers and producers as well. Her products feature organic fruits like lemons, oranges, berries, and figs. Locally sourced herbs and nuts add savory elements to the candy. And only the freshest butter, eggs, and honey make it into these high-quality treats. Additionally, for those who enjoy a vegan lifestyle, there are plenty of sweet options from which to choose.
From a healthcare standpoint, Williams created a product that her customers can feel good about choosing. The body of research dedicated to the potential health benefits that dark chocolate can provide continues to grow. While the chocolate itself may be high in antioxidants, Williams carefully selects the ingredients she pairs with it. She adds in “superfoods” like blueberries and utilizes local honey in place of refined sugar.
“My basic feeling is that we need to eat ‘close to the earth,’” she said. “When I was growing up, we had a farm with a big garden. We ate lots of fresh, seasonal food. The more natural a product is, the more it has to offer us nutritionally. Food can be delicious and still be healthy. Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive.”
Customers rave about the selection, taste, and service they receive when visiting Dr. Sue’s Chocolate. In addition to offering truffle making classes and wine pairing events, the company emphasizes community-based wellness education. Those who have stopped by the store are typically impressed with the amount of care and attention provided by both Williams and her staff. They are knowledgeable and care deeply about sharing the benefits of making a more healthful choice when it comes to dark chocolate. According to Williams’s website, “Together we can motivate good dietary and life choices.”
With a successful career in medicine and no intention to stray from her duties as a doctor, Williams has elected not to pay herself with the company. However, she prioritizes a living wage for her employees. “I looked up the numbers for a living wage in our area and made sure that we were above that from the start,” she explained. “I’m incredibly fortunate to have amazing people working with me. They are smart and innovative. We work hard but have fun. These guys know how to put a smile on my face. They are wonderful people.”
In addition to the care Williams puts into hiring, training, and encouraging her staff, she puts equal emphasis on giving back to the community. “We have a Charity of the Month,” Williams said. “For that charity, we sell small chocolate bars that we call Grace Bars.” The bars were named after Grace Grapevine, an “amazingly comprehensive organization that was our first Charity of the Month.” They have continued to be the focus of charity once a year ever since. During the month, the designated charity receives 100 percent of the sales price of each Grace Bar (the tax still goes to the city).
“We also donate in large and small amounts to local charities that promote health and wellness as we are able throughout the year,” Williams said. “Most years, the number is around 60 to 75 charities that receive something.” Indeed, the company motto rings true: “Dr. Sue’s Chocolate is chocolate you’ll feel good about eating!”
What Does the Doctor Recommend?
With so many incredible options, seasonal specials, and tantalizing flavor combinations, it may be hard to narrow down just what to try first. “I’m really excited about the Rosemary Olive Oil Melt-aways,” Williams said. Dark chocolate is firmer than milk chocolate since the fat and sugar in the latter create a softer chew. “So I decided to start experimenting with olive oil in chocolate since it’s a much healthier fat. People love the unexpected combination of savory and sweet,” Williams said. “And it really does melt in your mouth! They’re unique, delicious, and a healthier option than milk chocolate.”