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Astana, Kazakhstan • 01 December 2023

Chocolate with Kurt: Kazakh Chocolatier’s Recipe for TikTok Virality

Nurlan Orynbayev on crafting chocolate, running a coffee shop, making music, and everything in between

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Collage by QazMonitor
Collage by QazMonitor

With various elements of Kazakh cuisine gaining momentum on TikTok, a unique blend of flavors took center stage: chocolate with kurt, the beloved traditional snack made of salty cottage cheese.

Meet the versatile Nurlan Orynbayev – chocolatier, coffee shop owner, and musician – who made this snack go viral through short TikTok videos. The frenzy is real; the chocolate flies off the shelves daily, proving the popularity of the unusual combination. While juggling the responsibilities of operating a busy coffee shop and crafting handmade chocolate, Nurlan also finds time to do music as a member of the band Daiynball.

QazMonitor caught up with Nurlan to explore his journey from an office worker to a chocolatier, the impact of social media on sales, and how he skillfully balances all of his diverse roles.

Nurlan Orynbayev (Ruslan Pryanikov for QazMonitor)
Nurlan Orynbayev (Ruslan Pryanikov for QazMonitor)

How did you decide to venture into chocolate making?

I think I did not choose chocolate, but chocolate chose me [laughs]. My wife was studying at the time, and I convinced her that we should venture into chocolate-making and start a business. Both of us were office workers at the time, but we had this dream of delving into something different. Moreover, it [chocolate making] is beautiful and fascinating so it immediately attracted our attention.

How did the idea of creating your signature chocolate with kurt come about?

We were not the first to come up with the idea of chocolate with kurt — it was already being made in Kyrgyzstan. A friend of ours introduced us to it and suggested we create a special order of chocolate with kurt for corporate gifts. We experimented with different proportions, and we felt that the pieces of kurt in the original chocolate were too small, so we did it our way. In essence, it was not our invention; we just adapted it.

Nurlan Orynbayev (Ruslan Pryanikov for QazMonitor)
Nurlan Orynbayev (Ruslan Pryanikov for QazMonitor)

Chocolate with kurt is quite an unusual combination. What is the typical reaction when people try it for the first time?

It varies. When people buy it, I usually ask, "Is this your first time trying it, or are you already hooked?" because many people really enjoy it. It is not too sweet, not too bitter or sour—more like a balanced taste. While some may not like it, I do not think there are that many such people. Say, at least half of them definitely liked it.

I saw your coffee shop on Instagram, and it seems very cozy and genuinely made with passion. I even checked customer reviews, and I noticed that it only has positive reviews. In your opinion, what attracts people to your coffee shop?

I am really proud of the reviews we get. I think our energy is embedded in the coffee shop. When we opened it, the focus was on the visual aspect and creating a warm atmosphere. It is a small space, a place where you want to shelter in cold or rainy weather. My wife handles the visual aspects; it’s all her cool ideas.

For our first coffee shop, we did almost everything ourselves. I remember how my wife and I did the tiling, built a bar countertop — we designed everything ourselves. I think that is why the place has become popular; we put our soul and creativity into it.

Nurlan Orynbayev (Ruslan Pryanikov for QazMonitor)
Nurlan Orynbayev (Ruslan Pryanikov for QazMonitor)

Did TikTok contribute to chocolate sales? Did you see a spike in sales after the viral video?

Yes, it was incredible. I never thought TikTok was so powerful, but it made such a difference. At first, we were not prepared for such attention. When people hit us on Instagram, called us, or texted on WhatsApp, I got tired because I did not like that people contacted us too persistently. Dealing with the sudden influx was challenging, as we previously worked at our own pace. People were constantly calling, they were asking us to send them our products, but we don’t do deliveries. We want you to come to our coffee shop, choose and buy whatever [you want]. Many even ask for photos, to send menus, but we do not have that.

What about your music? It also went viral on TikTok. What came first, chocolate or the music?

I think it happened all at once. Chocolate gained more initial traction, and then the music gained popularity in TikTok. Because the first thing that grabs attention is not the music but the visual sequence, and then people start to notice and say, "Oh, cool, some strange song" or "Nice song” — people react differently. The song has not gone fully viral yet, but I think it still has a chance. We’ll see.

@qaraqarr

До недавнего времени не мог определиться со статусом, то считал себя предпринимателем, то бизнесменом, то ремесленник, теперь еще блоггер, дейд 😂 Как бы то ни было, при любом амплуа, в каких бы ипостасях не пребывал, мы должны выкладываться на 200%, и еще кое что важное, это моя жена любит приводить Фордову мудрость - „Качество — это делать что-либо правильно, даже когда никто не смотрит.“ Делайте правильно, делайте красиво… делайте, в конце концов.

♬ daiynball . oilan - месье-шоколатье

What are your plans for your musical project Daiynball? As far as I know, there is currently only one Daiynball song on Apple Music.

That’s right. We have a bunch of songs, actually, it is just a matter of time [to release them]. There are three of us, each having their own character and quirks. Sometimes there’s not enough time but we will try to release songs more frequently. Another track will come out soon.

You mentioned that you used to be an office worker. How did you venture into more creative areas and open your coffee shop? Were you concerned that the income could be unstable?

It is indeed an unstable source of income; the first year was tough. We could not afford to hire anyone, like a barista, because we did not have enough money.

In the beginning, it is unstable, and there might not even be space for creativity. At that point, many people do not have the strength to continue moving forward. But I think we were more fortunate in this regard.

I am lucky that I am not alone; we are doing this together, and having someone with whom you can share plans and fears is very helpful. For example, I understand certain aspects more, my wife - my partner, understands others, and we complement each other. It is a big plus when you do not work alone, but there are also some nuances: you need to adapt together, not kill each other while doing renovation, and so on.

Nurlan Orynbayev (Ruslan Pryanikov for QazMonitor)
Nurlan Orynbayev (Ruslan Pryanikov for QazMonitor)

So you don’t regret leaving your office job?

Not at all. I think it is the best decision in my life. Now that time has passed and we have some achievements, it is easy to talk about. Back at that time, when no one believed in us and we did not have much, there were certainly many doubts. I thought, "Oh man, I should have just worked in the office; my colleagues still work there, and everything is going great for them; they buy cars, go on vacations and stuff." It was pretty tough back then.

How do you balance between working in the coffee shop, producing chocolate, and making music?

I do music in the evening or at night and work during the day, although it is always different. I try to distribute it more or less evenly, but it does not always work. Yesterday was the fourth night in a row leaving around five in the morning, as I was working at the studio.

There are times when you do not feel like doing anything, just want to recharge your energy, and relax with family. There are moments when a lot needs to be done with orders or chocolate production in the workshop. Lately, we have been like firefighters, going where it is burning and extinguishing there. But we will optimize things in the future.

Nurlan Orynbayev (Ruslan Pryanikov for QazMonitor)
Nurlan Orynbayev (Ruslan Pryanikov for QazMonitor)

What plans and ambitions do you have for each of your roles—entrepreneur, musician, and family man?

I don't know, I see the family as the core, not just a role. In terms of music, chocolate, and so on, we will keep going as long as it brings us joy, resonates with our vibe, and does not become burdensome. On the other hand, life can move in different directions. [It is important] to be fulfilled in all areas, in all senses of the word. One should have some concept of a happy person who keeps everything within bounds and is well-rounded to reach fulfillment in life.

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