FAIRFIELD — Shari Fitzpatrick made her mark selling chocolate-covered strawberries, not homes.
Still, she spoke Tuesday at the Northern Solano County Association of Realtor’ Charitable Foundation American Home Week brunch. She took her experience from founding Shari’s Berries and applied it to entrepreneurialism in general.
“You’ve got to be a little different,” Fitzpatrick said during the event at the Clubhouse at Rancho Solano. “You’ve got to find your own niche, be creative.”
She recalled how she used to pick strawberries in the family garden while growing up in Klamath Falls, Ore. That planted the seeds for her future business, though she didn’t know it.
Instead, she went to college for a few years, then went to Los Angeles in 1985 to work for her brother’s mortgage company. School hadn’t suited her.
“I’m more of a street-smart, seat-of-my-pants type of girl,” she said.
Her sister-in-law introduced her to the idea of dipping strawberries in chocolate. Fitzpatrick would stay up to 2 a.m. making gift baskets and bringing them to the real estate agents.
“I enjoyed the mortgage business, but I wasn’t passionate about it,” she said. “I began thinking about how short life is and the importance of loving your career choice.”
She went to Sacramento and started her Shari’s Berries business. She came up with new product ideas, such as a strawberry rose and chocolate-caramel apple slices. Her business and fame grew. She brought in a lawyer to help her strike a business deal.
And she lost Shari’s Berries as a result. She lost majority ownership over time and the board of directors sold the company off, she said. In 2006, Provide Commerce took over without Fitzpatrick.
“Twenty-two years of blood, sweat and tears was gone,” she said. “It was the most difficult time of my life.”
She came to understand that dipping strawberries in chocolate is what she does, not who she is. She realized beauty can come from brokenness, she said.
Fitzpatrick turned to speaking. Her focus includes the worlds of faith, corporate, academic and, as was on display Tuesday, entrepreneur.
Now she’s back with a new online business called Berried in Chocolate. She said Shari’s Berries – now a competitor – has turned to dipping strawberries in chocolate with machines, rather than by hand.
“No machines, no shortcuts,” her Berried in Chocolate website says, adding that Berried in Chocolate is the only place to find Fitzpatrick’s original chocolate strawberries.
She has also written a book about her career. It is called “Berried in Chocolate” and comes in an edition that’s dipped in chocolate.
“My readers can eat my chocolate while they read my book,” Fitzpatrick said.
The American Home Week Champagne Brunch had a Wizard of Oz “there’s no place like home” theme. Association President Paul McGuire stepped to the microphone for his brief remarks dressed as the Tin Woodman.
The event is a fundraiser for the association’s charitable foundation. This year’s charities are Opportunity House in Vacaville and Community Action North Bay.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.