One cannot get more notorious than being featured in Noseweek (July 2015 issue), and to have a Facebook group created about one’s business. Such an ‘honour’ has been bestowed upon Daniel Waldis, owner of Le Chocolatier, who has operated in Franschhoek, now in Stellenbosch, and with a factory in Paarl!
I first met Waldis at his restaurant in Franschhoek, after I had written a less than complimentary review of it. He was charm himself, schmoozing me in German when I returned, and promised to address all problems I had identified, and he kept this promise. Soon after I had written the review, I received an e-mail with a link to a Facebook page, highlighting Waldis to be dishonest in selling Botox packages from offices he had in the V&A Waterfront at the time, calling himself ‘Dr’, a qualification he did not have. Comments to the blogpost highlighted his dubious past too!
Waldis fed me with information about Franschhoek businesses, and seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time at a legal office on the main road in Franschhoek. He seemed to pick up an extraordinary amount of information about property purchases made by Chef Reuben Riffel, which he would pass on to me. One wonders how the legal firm could divulge such information.
Initially chocolates were handmade in the Le Chocolatier restaurant in Franschhoek, but a space next door became available, and the chocolates were made there, with a retail outlet selling chocolates too. He had a short-lived partnership with the current owners of African Chocolate Dreams, who had brought their chocolate-making machine with them, but they disappeared overnight and opened their own shop on main road. Waldis continued selling a large variety of chocolate truffles, supposedly made elsewhere by his staff, but I recognized one of my favorites made by Tomes in the V&A Waterfront. He insisted that they were all handmade by his staff.
Soon the chocolate shop closed down, and I was told by his staff that he had moved it to Stellenbosch, and that he had taken over Apprentice, belonging to Letitia Prinsloo of the Institute of Culinary Arts. The truth was that he rented a space inside the restaurant. I spoke to Letitia, and she told me she had to close Apprentice, due to the losses she made, Waldis never paying his rent, and buying his chocolate supplies on her account, and not paying her for it either. He then opened a small chocolate shop on touristy Church Street in Stellenbosch, which still operates.
In the meantime I received an increasing number of calls from business persons, who had found the Le Chocolatier telephone number on my blog, and calling me when they could not get through to him. I would go there for coffee, and the staff would tell me that there was a technical problem which they had reported to Telkom. Then I received more calls, and they were from the company which leased the point-of-sale machine to Waldis, and was not paid, I was told. More and more debt-seekers called me, to find Waldis.
Le Chocolatier closed down in Franschhoek overnight, and I lost contact with Waldis. I was sent two articles by post anonymously, about Waldis having sat in a Zurich prison in 2004 for income tax offences, according to a report in the Sonntagsblick in 2008.
I was horrified when an owner of a guest house near the Kruger Park called me last year, to confirm that I was making an offer on her guest house. She said that Daniel Waldis had been to see her, made an offer for her business in the name of my Whale Cottage Portfolio, but had not paid the deposit, which was long due!
I haven’t been to Stellenbosch for a while, and didn’t hear from or about Waldis for more than a year. In May I noticed a high number of readers of my Blogpost about Waldis and the Le Chocolatier restaurant in Franschhoek via Google Analytics, which measures readership of the website, and of each blogpost separately.
I was not surprised therefore when a short while later I found an open group (since closed) on Facebook called ‘Le Chocolatier South Africa Scam’, with more than 2500 members, being irate retailers stocking the range of Le Chocolatier chocolate slabs, and angry customers who had been misled by the product claims on the packaging, including being ‘sugar-free‘, ‘organic‘, Swiss-made‘, Banting-friendly, and more. Tests undertaken by independent laboratories highlighted that the ‘no sugar‘ Le Chocolatier slabs contained levels of sucrose of up to 30%. The results were posted on the scam Facebook page, and stockists Wellness Warehouse and Spar were pressurized by concerned consumers to remove the fraudulent chocolate slabs from their shelves. Every time the results were posted on the Facebook page, Waldis would change the packaging, and the slabs would be stocked by retailers again. Waldis threatened legal action against members of the group that were outspoken about his business ethics, or lack of.
On the Le Chocolatier website, the company is called ‘Swiss Chocolatier Pty Ltd‘, and one wonders if it is registered anywhere in this name! It claims to be the ‘Finest Swiss Chocolates’, a misleading claim, and ‘handmade, dark Ecuador, Swiss quality, and Organic’, all questionable claims! To appease his ‘conscience’, the website claims ‘Le Chocolatier contributes to Unite against Poaching‘! On the charity’s website, it is claimed that R2 from the sale of each chocolate slab will go to the ‘fight against poaching‘! The website shows a photograph of a Chocolate truffle display case in Raith in the Gardens Centre, but it has long been removed! Nine chocolate slabs are featured in the
website: Rhino Edition 70% Dark Chocolate, White Chocolate, 70% Luxury Milk Chocolate, 70% Dark Chocolate; 80% Premium Dark Chocolate; Banting; 56% Sugar Free; 55% Extra Smooth; and White Madagascan Vanilla. The list of stores at which the Le Chocolatier chocolate slabs are sold is ‘password protected‘ on the website! On its own Facebook page Le Chocolatier (still linked to Franschhoek but not having operated from there for some years) claimed on 7 July that it had sold ‘over 1 million slabs since January 2015‘!
Noseweek quotes Debbie Logan, an organic product retailer in Johannesburg, who has been very outspoken in her criticism of the product range and Waldis’ business practices. The ‘organic’ certified claim supposedly issued by a Swiss company was found to be a ‘fraud‘. She visited Waldis in Paarl in May. She discovered that Waldis imported chocolate bars from overseas, remaking them into slabs, making his ‘handmade‘ claim fraudulent too!
POSTSCRIPT 30/11/2016: Daniel Waldis and Le Chocolatier took us to the High Court, with the demand that this Blogpost be removed in its entirety. Judge Dennis Davis ruled that only a sentence each in the first and last paragraphs of the Blogpost be removed. The essence of the two removed sentences is reflected in the headline of this Blogpost.
Le Chocolatier, 10 Church Street, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 883-2200. Unit 4, Oosterland Street, Paarl. www.lechocolatier.co.za