Entrepreneurs Todd and Kathleen Atkins spent the last five years traveling the world searching for a place to retire, but after a four-day visit last year the couple fell head over heels for the tempting tastes of Puerto Vallarta.
Just 53, the entrepreneurs had sampled Thailand, the Caribbean and parts of the U.S., but none felt right for them until they touched down in Puerto Vallarta.
“When we came to Vallarta last year we fell in love with it,” Kathleen said. “I was doing yoga on our condo rooftop near the pool and the sun was coming up over the mountains, the roosters were crowing and the bay was sparkling. Everything was coming alive and it just felt like this could be home. I just love the positive vibe, the weather, the ocean and the people.”
Kathleen was raised in Cornell, Illinois, a small farming community about 100 miles southwest of Chicago. She left in 1982 to attend fashion school in Arlington, Texas before returning to Illinois to receive a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Northern Illinois University and then a master’s degree in 1995 in management information systems. After school, she moved to Chicago and then San Diego before settling in New York in 2001 to attend acting school at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre. After graduation she returned to Chicago and had a business designing and making couture dog collars.
Todd grew up in Everett, Washington and attended the University of Washington in 1982 for a year before heading south to receive a doctor of chiropractic degree from Life University in Marietta, Georgia. He practiced chiropractic medicine for the next nine years in the Seattle area and then sold his practice to buy into a Baskin Robbins franchise and start several new businesses. He moved to Chicago in 2006 and bought into several Dunkin’ Donuts franchises.
“We were planning on retiring at the end of 2017,” Todd said, “but when we were in Vallarta last year we met some people who told us there was a chocolate business for sale. We jokingly said ‘Oh, okay’ and went to see the chocolate shop. There also was an ice cream shop next door. We ended up buying both. Xocodiva is an artisan chocolate shop and LIx is the best ice cream shop in Puerto Vallarta.”
Wasting no time, the couple hired a local attorney and an accountant to conduct the due diligence required to make sure the financial statements and accounting were accurate and to begin the process of acquiring the business.
“The process is a little longer in Mexico,” Todd said. “The hardest part is learning patience, which is not a strength of most Americans. We hired two attorneys, one for immigration and one for the business. We also had two separate accountants. One did the books for the sale of the business and the other handles our monthly accounting. Total cost for purchasing and setting up the business was less than US$4,000, including attorneys, accountants and the work permits. Since we started around Christmas when all government offices are shut down, it took a little while longer, but it was still less than five months to get everything done. We would definitely recommend that anyone who wants to start a business here spend at least six months in Mexico before jumping into a business so they can get used to everything.”
Xocodiva’s lease had expired by the time the deal was done so the couple decided to use a nearby production kitchen to produce their artisan chocolates and not open a new retail location. Lix, the ice cream shop, remains at its popular Basilio Badillo location in Puerto Vallarta’s Zona Romantica south of the Cuale River.
“We’ve started opening the production kitchen one day a week for chocolate sales to consumers,” Kathleen said, “because people are looking for Xocodiva chocolate. The previous owners did an amazing job of developing the product and brand name. People search it out. We’re not sure whether we will open a retail location again, though, because we’re finding more commercial accounts to supply.”
The couple has been developing distribution for their chocolates business through hotel gift shops and other similar retail outlets in areas of the city where hungry tourists may be looking for a quick chocolate fix.
Lix, their ice cream shop on the south side of Puerto Vallarta, continues to satisfy the tastes of both locals and visitors alike.
“We make all the ingredients that go into our ice cream,” Todd said. “We have a co-packer that makes and packages the ice cream for us, so our ice cream is very different, very specialized. We actually use some of our Belgian chocolate in the ice cream. It’s very special because of the ingredients we put in it.”
A popular item at Lix is a banana filled with Nutella, cherry, peanut butter and salted caramel dipped in either light or dark Belgian chocolate and then rolled in pecans. During the ice cream busy season in Vallarta, Lix sells about 500 a week.
The couple lives an easy 15-minute drive north of their businesses. They rent their home and recommend that new expats rent for at least a year to get an idea of where they might want to live. They are slowly integrating into life in Mexico, aided by living in an area with many Mexican neighbors.
“We don’t speak Spanish yet but we’re learning,” Todd said. “Our neighbors are very friendly and always wave and say ‘Buenos Dias!’ when we walk our Greyhounds in the morning. We could associate just with expats if we wanted to but we’re meeting locals, getting to know their names and going to restaurants with them.”
Todd and Kathleen think the best thing about living in Puerto Vallarta is not just one thing.
“It’s the whole experience, the package of people, weather and the cost of living,” they said. “Puerto Vallarta’s real estate is expensive compared to other cities in Mexico but where can you live in a swimming suit half the time and come home and jump in the pool any time of the year? We’re surrounded by great people who live here and those who visit from around the world. It’s also a great eating out town. We go out to eat for less than US$10 a person, so why bother cooking? We try something new almost every night and are having a lot of fun with that.”
They thought they would be retiring this year but find themselves working a lot but enjoying it.
“We’re learning a lot about business and the business culture of Mexico,” Todd told us. “It’s different than the U.S. and has different requirements, but we like it. Kathleen is handling most of the bookkeeping, accounting and public relations but I get the fun part. I get to make the chocolate and the ice cream.”