Evolution Part 4: Becoming a Chocolatier

Creating My Million Dollar Product ~

My hippy style jars of chocolate were delicious, but did nothing to prepare me for becoming an actual chocolatier. You may be thinking “come on, its not rocket science.” But it is physics, as you’ll read below. This is Part 4 in the chronological story of how Lulu’s Chocolate was born and I went from living in my van to running a six figure (seven this year, wahoo!) business.

 

The Birth of the Lulu’s Chocolate Bar 

I was determined to get myself off of those fancy chocolate bars I was addicted to. The sugar was killing me and I felt I had truly struck the jackpot by finding coconut sugar, which I could eat as much of as desired with no ill effect. I had a 10lb capacity table top grinder, cacao, coconut sugar, will power, determination, a raging chocolate addiction and absolutely no idea in the world what the hell I was doing. Looking back I would have taken a class, gone out and bought a book, hello google? Well, I didn’t have a computer and apparently not a ton of common sense either, so I just dove in.  Someone told me this: to temper chocolate (what does that even mean?) heat the chocolate to 115, pour it onto a marble slab, stir till it gets to about 84, then reheat the chocolate to no higher than 90. Pour it into molds. Sounded easy enough. Except that it wasn’t. At all. Inventing the recipes was a blast! I tossed ingredients into in my grinder and let those granite wheels do their magic for days, meanwhile making our apartment reek to high heavens of fresh chocolate. Raw Love Bar was my first recipe and somehow I nailed it first try. I was feeling confident and high from this…thinking what a badass, a total natural. My first tempering attempt went perfectly as well. Yup, I had this dialed. Second time…well, that definitely shook my confidence quite a bit. The chocolate came out with deep red swirls all over it. Pretty, but not correct. Third time a disaster. The chocolate melted at room temperature, getting all over my fingers when I touched it. What the hell?

 

It’s All About a Good Temper 

For chocolate to come out right, you need to achieve a good temper, both for the chocolate and yourself. And this isn’t always easy when you think you are doing the same thing every time, but not getting consistent results (turns out even the room temperature and humidity level can ruin things). The flavor was so amazing…the texture was eluding me, just breaking my heart. One night, after hours of failed attempts, I lost it and cried into my batch of chocolate. Not a good idea, water and chocolate simply don’t mix. I was at my wit’s end and finally decided to suck up my pride (didn’t want to appear amateur after she had been stocking my chocolate jars in her shop for so long) and go talk to Sarah of Alma Chocolate in Portland. She was so sweet and compassionate (and makes amazing chocolate), leading me to a book called “The Art of Chocolate.”

Funny how sometimes when we are so deep in our drama we lose perspective of the fact that we most likely aren’t the only one who’s ever gone through it. I forgot that there was help out there waiting for me the whole time. I just had to ask. Let’s get technical. Cacao butter, the fat in chocolate, is polymorphous. It can crystallize (harden) in any of six different forms, but only one creates a perfect chocolate. How do you like those odds? This is why folks go to school for this stuff. You most likely have experienced chocolate when the crystals harden in an undesirable form. Have you ever had a chocolate bar that melted and then re-hardened to be gray and crumbly? It’s the same bar that was before silky smooth with a perfect snap and is now a non-cohesive mess. Seems a bit crazy, right? Before I really understood the wild nature of working with chocolate I thought it was just me, screwing up. After reading this book I was able to rediscover self-compassion and get back to it with renewed vigor and excitement. For those of you wanting to make chocolate at home, the great news is that the marble slab method is the most difficult, and certainly not the only way. There are a few options and when the stars align just right, I’m going to make a video for you and post it here.

 

Taking These Babies to Market 

My persistence paid off and I had in my hand what I considered the greatest chocolate bar on the planet. In three flavors: Raw Love, Aztec Crunch and Rare Heirloom, two of which we still sell like hotcakes. The jars were behind me and though it made many folks sad when I discontinued them, I had to be true to me. I had stopped eating the jar chocolate long ago and my promise to you is that I’m not going to put something out there that I’m not crazy about. In fact, the test a recipe has to pass is that I must have a phase of being totally addicted to it beyond control. I wrapped my bars in origami paper and found actual wildflower seed paper to print the labels on. I was on fire with the idea of people tossing their wrappers in their yards to create blooming flowers, and turned a deaf ear when a friend pointed out it was cost prohibitive.

One day I got a voicemail that floored me. Maynard James Keenan’s (the singer of Tool, one of my longtime favorite bands at the time) fiancé called me. A friend of mine had given her friend my Aztec Crunch bar and he thought it was amazing. He wanted a huge order of it for the grand opening night of Caduceus, his wine tasting room in Arizona. Now I felt like I was really, truly on to something. Until I got the call from her that every last bit of chocolate in that package had melted. I collapsed in horror and embarrassment! I guess shipping bars of chocolate did not compare at all with shipping jars. Doh! Well, you win some you lose some and it seems that I just love learning the hard way. Luckily we had a laugh about it when I told her to use it as body paint and he even decided to give me another chance, and sold my chocolate right there at his bar for years to come.

 

The Beloved Question 

My chocolate bars were selling well in the dozen stores I catered to and I was still pushing my cart around festivals. One fateful day at Beloved Music Festival, a woman I respect and admire greatly stopped me to ask a question. “Do you want to do this forever? There’s not much of a retirement plan in grassroots level industry.” I froze like a deer in the headlights. By golly, this had never even crossed my mind. I was simply overjoyed that chocolate had become my “real job” and suddenly I was supposed to think of my future? Well, that question changed my life.  Not only because I realized I needed to create a retirement plan for myself and family, but because I realized that getting my product out there on a national level would create joy & deliciousness in the world.  YES!  The rest is HERstory.  Xo 

by Louise Bonner

Founder & CEO

Lulu's Chocolate & Lulu's Botanicals