When you share your life and your business!
The craft chocolate industry has grown rapidly in the United States in the past 10 years. In 2006, there were only a handful of companies making their own chocolate in small batches from the bean. Now there are well over one hundred chocolate makers in the U.S. alone. Another interesting trend is the number of couples that have decided to make chocolate together – partners in every sense of the word, if you will! With Valentine’s Day just a few days away, it seemed the perfect opportunity to celebrate love and chocolate! We talked to two of our Ecole Chocolat graduates to delve a bit deeper into making chocolate with your other half.
About their businesses
Sandra Bedoya and her partner David Mejia are Nibble Chocolate of San Diego, California. They make their chocolate in small batches from single origin cocoa beans using only two ingredients – organic cocoa beans and organic cane sugar. Their chocolate is Certified Organic, vegan, soy free and gluten free. Supporting direct trade and paying a premium for their beans, each of the chocolate bars tells the story of the country of origin and the farm from which their beans are sourced.
Sarah Hartman and her partner Colin Hartman are Harper Macaw of Washington, D.C. Their chocolate is made from the highest quality fine flavor beans in Brazil. Their chocolate contains only cocoa and cane sugar (with the exception of their milk chocolates). Their chocolate also supports the conservation and reforestation of the rainforests in Brazil.
On life before chocolate
For Sandra and David of Nibble Chocolate, this wasn’t the first time they’d been in business together. They had always collaborated well together, on everything from home projects and event planning, to managing a family dog daycare business for a year: “We collaborated on all activities related to the business such as financial planning, staffing, operations, marketing and promotions. It was a very good learning experience for us”.
Sarah and Colin of Harper Macaw hadn’t worked together on a business in the past. Colin spent 4 years as an officer in the Marine Corps, then went on to corporate positions in e-commerce and supply chain management. Oh, and he got an MBA from Wharton School of Business too! Sarah attended culinary school in Brazil and worked in the restaurant industry. But she says, “I was always drawn towards desserts. I always talked about wanting to learn more about chocolate, and eventually a friend pushed me to go all out (literally) and book the Ecole Chocolat class in Switzerland – it was one of those large leaps of faith. I haven’t looked back since”.
Hey honey, let’s make our own chocolate!
How did each of these couples decide to go into the business of making bean to bar chocolate? For both Sandra and David, and Colin and Sarah, they were inspired by a mission that was personally important to them.
For Sandra and David, it came from a desire to provide people with an indulgence that could fit into a healthy lifestyle “We changed our diets significantly a few years ago, and had a hard time finding healthy chocolate”. During this lifestyle change, David and Sandra developed a passion for food. They were searching for chocolate without other additives and excessive amounts of sugar and dairy. Once they started learning more about chocolate, they were fascinated by the different flavors of chocolate depending on where the beans came from. David had been in the wine industry for 11 years and knew a lot about terroir, flavor notes, etc. from that industry. “This gave us the idea later on when we were ready to start our own business. As we learned more about chocolate, we realized how similar it was to wine and one of us had been already in the wine industry for over 11 years. This is when all our passions: food, health, wine and business came together!”
For Colin and Sarah, their business reflects their passion for chocolate, but is also part of a larger mission of conservation. Fine flavor cacao beans make up less than 10% of the total cacao beans grown on the planet. Colin and Sarah source their beans from Brazil, a country whose cacao has a unique flavor profile and is underrepresented in the craft chocolate world. In the 1980s, a fungal disease called witches’ broom wiped out over 75% of Brazil’s cacao population. This had a terrible impact on the crops, and also on livelihood of the farmers who grew them. So Sarah and Colin source their beans from Brazil through direct trade relationships with the farmers there, paying premiums that are on average double the market rate and 15 times the Fair Trade premium. In addition, through partnerships with Instituto Uiraçu, American Bird Conservancy, and Rainforest Trust, they are reinvesting in the expansion of the Reserva Serra Bonita, a cutting-edge rainforest expansion project.
Division of labor
Division of labor can be a hot button topic among couples, but even more so when you’re talking about your business! So who does what? Interestingly, both couples approach this issue quite differently.
For Sandra and David, they both like to be involved in all aspects of the business. “For now, as our business is still small and we continue to learn, we both have a hand in all aspects of the business. Primarily because we are so excited about everything that is going on that neither of us wants to miss a thing! Also we are both creative in different ways but still have the same vision, so we find that when we discuss the ideas and issues together we find better solutions”.
For Sarah and Colin, they have found a combination of approaches works best for them. Sarah says the division of labor is a tricky question because “we are both owners and founders and we both care about Harper Macaw immensely”. They both have distinctive roles that play to their respective strengths “I am the Head of Product, Colin is the Head of Business. We try to keep the majority of our work very separate and most of the time it works”. But for other aspects of the business, they’ve found a joint approach works best “When it comes to Marketing, however, we are both in it. We both do social media, we both reach out to potential customers (Colin deals mostly with wholesale while I deal with hospitality clients), we both sell the products, and we both communicate the brand. The secret to our success in working together in these marketing areas is that we are both certain of who we are, who the business is, and what we stand for – so it makes it easy to be aligned and trust each other”.
But as in all partnerships, we know that things can get a little touchy if one partner infringes on the other’s turf! “If Colin comes around touching the machinery or moving things around in production, then he knows he is in for a chew out!” Sarah says.
Working with your other half
This wouldn’t be a post leading up to Valentine’s Day without talking about the best things about working with the person you also share your life with! Both couples talked about the joys of sharing their passion with their partner.
“We love that we share the same dreams and we are working towards the same goals. We both feel very grateful every day to wake up and do something that we love, so one of the best things is to be able to share the everyday accomplishments. Of course during the hard times is the same. We share the struggles and the challenges and we push each other to do our best and overcome them” says Sandra.
“The best – and the worst – thing about working with my partner is having someone who cares about the business as much as I do. This can be beneficial when something of extreme importance is on the line and we need both of our full selves to be invested in solving the issue. Being able to talk about the business at all times is a benefit because it doesn’t feel like work, so you are always working kinks out even if you don’t necessarily notice it because you are in your pajamas about to fall asleep! In many ways, it makes running a business easier and smoother. It is also great having him around. Sometimes you just need to escape reality and forget about the business – so you can go for a hug or go for a coffee” says Sarah.
Is there something about making chocolate that makes it an appealing business for couples?
We wondered if there was something specific about making chocolate from bean to bar that made it appealing to couples. For our grads, it’s about sharing your passions with the person you share your life with.
“Chocolate making is a fun and rewarding experience. It’s a dream! It would make sense that if just one person was doing it for a living, the other person would just be jealous” says Sandra. And there’s also the practical aspect of entering into an all-consuming business “This business requires long hours of hard work, which are much more enjoyable when you are together; otherwise you probably wouldn’t have much time left to spend with your significant other!” says Sandra.
For Sarah and Colin, their decision was driven by both passion, and practicality “We came into this business together because I needed a sound business partner, and Colin was ready to run his first business. Going into business together makes life nicer – running a business is much more than holding a job (although there are wonderful intrapreneurial people who treat their jobs like their life mission). Going at it together can strengthen bonds and hence, I believe, create a stronger business as well. At some level, it is a life style choice that you can both suffer through but also enjoy together. Now – in terms of going into chocolate making together – it has to be because it makes life sweeter!” says Sarah.
Thank you so much to Sandra and David of Nibble Chocolate and Sarah and Colin of Harper Macaw for taking time away from their insanely busy production leading up to Valentine’s Day to share their stories with us. We hope that you also get a chance to enjoy some time with your respective Valentines this weekend – even if it’s during production!