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In 2005 BC (Before Chocolate), I was a criminal defense lawyer in Springfield, Missouri. I was good at it, I was famous (or notorious, depending on who you ask), I was making a lot of money, I loved my work, and I knew without a doubt that if I didn’t quit, it was going to kill me. As in, dead.
I had no hobbies (except for taking my daughter to Backstreet Boys concerts) and didn’t really know how to be comfortable anywhere but a courtroom. So I prayed a simple prayer nearly every day for 5 long years: “Dear God, please give me something else to do.”
Given my yearning to leave a job I knew was going to mean my early funeral, maybe it’s not surprising that it was when I was driving home from someone else’s funeral that it struck me—dropped into my head out of the clear blue Missouri sky I was driving through—that I needed to be a chocolate maker. It could have been one of those weird flashes—but flashes, by definition, don’t stick around. This stayed. Turns out, it wasn’t a flash; it was a dawning (the figurative sun of which we’ve remembered in our logo).
At that point, all I knew about chocolate was that I loved eating it. But I brought my lawyer skills to bear on learning all I could about chocolate: where it comes from—botanically, historically and culturally—how it’s made, and how to harness its ancient and mystical properties to craft something people would love. Within a few months of that flash I was in the Amazon studying cocoa farmers’ post-harvest techniques and how those influence the finished chocolate’s flavor.
I was excited, and challenged, to learn that if I made chocolate from the bean, I’d be one of the only people in the country doing so. If I also sourced and imported the beans directly myself, so that my customers and I would know precisely where our chocolate came from, I’d be among the first to apply that common-sense principle to chocolate-making. If I were to treat cocoa farmers like business partners—with fairness, dignity, and respect, while making sure they receive their fair share of the income—I’d be one of the only people doing that, too.
I got a tabletop grinder and my first bag of beans, and started making chocolate in the kitchen. My wife Caron and I threw focus groups disguised as tasting parties. In time, we bought and restored a building in an area of town that needed people to buy and restore buildings. Then there was the 6,000-pound antique granite melangeur from Europe, and so on. I convinced more of the family to help—especially my daughter Lawren, then a teenager, and my son-in-law Kyle. And off we went, doing what we do, meeting and working with farmers and communities from four continents to tackle the mysteries, magic and heartache of trying to make perfect chocolate, from profit sharing to packaging our beautiful bars, for a long while having no idea whether we would one day make money, or were sinking our life savings into a shiny stainless steel tank of brown goo.
Having built the business from scratch, I can confidently say the greatest opportunity and challenge has been weaving social responsibility into everything we do; it’s not just a buzzword, it’s who we are. Askinosie Chocolate was born committed to fairness, sustainability, minimal environmental impact and community enhancement. Those commitments will be in place as long as the company is. We’re dedicated not just to making the best quality chocolate you can buy, but to making it in such a way that the more you learn about it, the better you feel about it.
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