If there's something that seems faintly familiar upon entering the chocolate boutique, MarieBelle, in New York's SoHo neighborhood, it's probably because you feel you just wandered into Vianne Rocher's chocolaterie from the 2000 movie, “Chocolat.”
There's the same warm blue and cacao brown color scheme with gilt accents; the similar use of oversized apothecary-style jars and glass vitrines; and a friendly, attractive proprietor with class and style.
There are other similarities (they both make a delicious, thick cup of hot chocolate), but there are differences, too. Vianne Rocher is French. Maribel Lieberman is Honduran. And where Rocher's restless, wandering nature compels her to close up shop and relocate every few years, Lieberman's peripatetic tendencies result in the continual expansion of her sweet empire.
Her flagship SoHo store, established in 2002, remains popular among repeat and new visitors more than 10 years after it opened, in spite of the occasionally lagging economy and ever-increasing Manhattan rents. And in the decade-plus she's logged in the chocolate business so far, Lieberman has managed to corner the chocolate market in another expensive location, Japan, where she has established several MarieBelle boutiques.
Lieberman didn't set out to become a chocolatier. She originally came to New York to study fashion at the Parsons School for Design. She completed her degree and then spent three years in the industry — “illustrating mostly,” she says — before pivoting to the culinary arts and propelling herself into a new career by starting a catering company that would eventually morph yet again into the chocolate venture.
Next, how Maribel gives back...