Chocolate can taste bitter. The chocolate factory adventure launched 20 years ago by Geneviève Grandbois ends in bankruptcy and a lawsuit for nearly $260,000.

Grandbois Chocolats, which had three stores in Montreal, ceased operations and declared bankruptcy on May 15.

The assets have a market value assessed at $20,000 (machines, tools, unprocessed chocolate, etc.).

Liabilities so far are pegged at nearly $224,000, but the true number written in red ink will be higher: 37 of 43 unsecured creditors have not yet quantified their claims. “They should file their claims by the meeting of creditors,” on June 6, trustee Michel Thibault told La Presse.

All of these people will go after the secured creditor, the National Bank, which is claiming $100,000.

Ms. Grandbois and her company are also being sued for $258,363.96 by the owners of a chocolate factory in LaSalle and a store in Montreal, L’Affaire est Chocolat!, who wanted to develop a private label.

According to their lawsuit, in May 2022, chocolate makers Nancy Bastien and Frédéric Fournier had taken over the operations of Grandbois Chocolats under a temporary operating agreement to lead to a transaction. The purchase offer was accepted by Ms. Grandbois on September 23, 2022. Under the agreement, Ms. Grandbois was to remain an 8% shareholder of the company and serve as a consultant for three years, the refinanced company ensuring the sustainability of the Chocolats Geneviève Grandbois brand.

Relations soured last spring shortly before closing the deal. According to the suit, Ms. Grandbois wanted last April to make changes to the offer to purchase that she had accepted in May 2022, in particular with regard to the use of her name and the non-competition clause; she also wanted to stop being a shareholder.

Joined late Friday afternoon, Ms. Grandbois said her version of the facts would be explained in a defense still being prepared by her lawyer and “which will be consistent with the facts”.

“There is a legal aspect, so I don’t want to go into too much detail. But actually, I wanted to focus on my strengths, creation and communication, and leave the management and operations aspect to invested partners” and majority, she says. “But it didn’t work out. Ultimately, they pulled out and left the business inoperable. »

The Fournier-Bastien couple has a different version. Ms. Bastien asserts on the contrary that the turnaround of Grandbois Chocolats was done before the recent disagreement. The couple’s goal, in the hoped-for partnership with Ms. Grandbois, was to acquire a majority stake in the Chocolats Geneviève Grandbois brand and the three boutiques while retaining the expertise of the founder.

“In addition to our store, we have a chocolate factory that does sub-contracting for other brands and is doing very well,” explains Nancy Bastien.

“But we thought it was worth it, so we injected $60,000 on the spot in the spring of 2002, then $30,000 in August; and we managed to obtain financing, which has not been easy for a company that has been loss-making for several years,” says Ms. Bastien. We put a lot of time and energy into making it work. It was a tough turnaround, but we were getting there: after a year, we were breaking even. »

“Unfortunately, Ms. Grandbois began asking for changes, including taking over the name after a year and no longer being a partner,” adds the chocolate maker. Then, she withdrew the morning of the transaction. »

The other owner, Mr. Fournier, is sorry for the turn of events. “After all the effort we’ve made, the last thing we want is to pass for the people who shut down Grandbois Chocolats. »

He says that as of Friday afternoon he had contacted the trustee to see if the brand could be saved in the bankruptcy process.

Trustee Thibault, however, told La Presse that the sale of a trademark containing a name in the context of bankruptcy, while not impossible, “is not something that [he] would consider [t] a premium on board “.

Grandbois Chocolats already had six stores and Ms. Grandbois had expressed ambitions outside Quebec and even in the United States. But the company had to downsize a few years ago. Only three stores in Montreal had been preserved, at the Atwater market, rue Ontario and rue Saint-Viateur.

Around 2007, Mrs. Grandbois had tried to secure part of her cocoa supply herself, by buying a small plantation in Costa Rica. The performance was a disappointment. This asset does not appear on the company’s balance sheet: “It was not in the name of Grandbois Chocolats. I sold it six or seven years ago,” Ms. Grandbois said.