As you can learn from the video he’d been looking to change careers, looking to swap success as a criminal defense attorney for something else. And when Shawn contacted me he still was not convinced that chocolate was the path he was going to follow.
Shawn found me through my previous website (chocophile [dot] com), which he’d run across during his research. At some point during our conversations I mentioned a University of Chocolate trip to origin – Ecuador – that I was planning to go on, organized by Pierrick Chouard (who was one of my most influential early mentors).
Shawn decided to sign up and, completely coincidentally, we met in the airport in Dallas waiting for our connecting flight to Quito. One of us changed our seats (and sat in the middle – a true sign of friendship!) and we talked about cocoa and chocolate the entire flight down. We also talked about the drivers behind what he wanted to do, which went far beyond just making chocolate.
From well before he opened the doors to the public, the social empowerment aspect underlying Askinosie Chocolate was key component of Shawn's vision.
About six months after we returned from Ecuador, I got a call from Shawn asking me if I wanted to join him on his first bean–buying trip to Mexico and Venezuela. (Did I? Of course, I did!)
During the week or so we traveled together I got a chance to see Shawn’s commitment to his vision while getting to visit some of the more famous origins for cocoa in the world: Xoconusco along the Pacific coast of Mexico and the Barlovento region of Venezuela.
This trip was a series of epiphanies for me, especially as I learned first-hand just how different cocoa cultures in different countries are. What I had learned in Ecuador on trips in 2003 and 2005 did not apply to what I discovered about cocoa culture in Mexico or Venzuela. While cocoa was still at the center, historic, economic, and other factors were different which meant that each culture values things differently. This is a lesson I keep front of mind to this day.
Askinosie Chocolate first started shipping chocolate in 2007 and I am honored to have been a part of its startup journey, from the depths of the Amazonian rainforest in Southeastern Ecuador to Mexico and Venezuela to tasting some of the first chocolate being produced and writing copy for the first inner wrappers, I was given a glimpse of the special talents that Shawn brings to chocolate.
And I haven’t even begun to touch the surface of the work Askinosie Chocolate does with the farmers from whom they buy their cocoa. It’s not enough to pay a premium for quality and to profit-share. Askinosie Chocolate has innovated in creating programs that deliver meaningful value to the communities he works with, and that includes his hometown of Springfield, Missouri.
Having been a part of the Askinosie Chocolate journey from the outset, I know that it’s about the chocolate – the sales of chocolate have to sustain the business. When you buy any Askinosie Chocolate product you can be sure that the cocoa was sourced with the highest regard to lives and livelihoods of the farmers who produced it.