What or who inspired you to become an entrepreneur? What do you consider Harlem Chocolate Factory’s biggest successes? What impact has COVID19 had on your business this year?
I think in some way I have always been an entrepreneur. I used to sell painted pinecones and Girl Scout cookies.
Our biggest successes have been being featured on the Today Show, and every time a customer comes back. I think there was a part of me that was afraid people would only be interested in our chocolates as a novelty, so when people love our products, that’s a success.
COVID has been a gift and a curse, from a purely business standpoint. We were on track for monumental growth this year and that was cut short. Within one week we had to close our retail shop and all of our corporate events were cancelled. We had to move to an online model when we had never really operated in that manner. Summer has been extremely hard but having our shop closed gave us a second to truly review and reset our business. We were able to basically rebuild our business and have renewed hope in our future.
You have shared with us how fine chocolate is often associated with European makers. There is a disconnect, however, with all of the those involved in cocoa value chain. How do you think this perception can be changed or balanced?
I know for myself, my entry to chocolate was attending the Salon du Chocolat’s New York shows every year since I was 10. My experiences at these shows were localized around European companies, and even the non-Euro companies spoke to how they emulated European traditions/flavors. We cannot negate European influence on chocolate but the Euro-centric view of the industry must be widened. It is important that people from multi-ethnic backgrounds bring their voices to the industry. The industry must respond in kind and give space for these voices and do internal reviews to ensure they tell the FULL story of chocolate.
What advice would you give to minority owned businesses wishing to enter the fine chocolate industry?
I would encourage them to not give up and to build a thick skin. Unfortunately, ignorance exists, and building a strong network is key to survival. I think it’s important to be present in the rooms where discussions are happening and not to feel discouraged. Your viewpoint is just as valid as anyone else’s and you owe it to yourself to let your voice be heard.