Women building their own businesses and lives in Craft Chocolate Part 1: Lauren Heineck


WKND Chocolate

Photo Credit: Jenni Summer Studios

Introduction: I am driven to understand what creates a successful and sustainable craft chocolate business*.

There is not one typical model when it comes to selling chocolate. Yes there are makers with their own shops and factories besides selling wholesale. The retail side is challenging and many struggle to stay open. I dream to open a chocolate shop carrying all things for the love of cacao while positively supporting farmers and their communities. I have heard of so many challenges and seen shops close that I am hesitant to even try. Over the years I have started to meet women in chocolate who built businesses for themselves. They are not following the models I learned while getting my MBA. I find it fascinating and thrilling and I wanted to learn how they do it. So I asked them.

This blog post series highlights companies that are different and broke the typical “chocolate mold”. We are not discussing financials here because that is a complicated discussion and not my focus for this series. My curiosity is rather about the soul of these businesses and what makes them unique.

* I am not talking about running a big name chain chocolate shop here. I am referring to small batch, crafted painstakingly by hand.

Here are the questions I asked:

  1. Why did you choose to start a business in craft chocolate?

  2. What is your "mojo" that keeps you going?

  3. What does success look like for you?

  4. What is your vision for the future of craft chocolate?

  5. What chocolate best describes you?

My own curiosity for what makes a sustainable craft chocolate business (across the supply chain) and my dream chocolate shop have inspired me to profile some of the #womeninchocolate and their entrepreneurial journeys. Here is part one of the series.

Lauren Heineck of WKND Chocolate, the Well Tempered Podcast, and the Well Tempered FB Community and weekly newsletter.

I met Lauren in Seattle in 2016 at the NW Chocolate Unconference. Through Instagram I saw she was coordinating a meet-up for women-in-chocolate and I was intrigued. We briefly connected online and I was looking forward to meeting her in person. Some people you meet and it feels like you were always friends. That is how it is with Lauren. She is an old soul that is as welcoming as a cup of your favorite drinking chocolate. She has the beautiful ability to connect, bring people together and in turn create a positive impact. In the past, I felt a bit isolated in this chocolate space for not having a defined “role” or “title” to describe myself. Honestly I still struggle with this but here I am sharing with you some of the wonderful people in the craft chocolate space.

When I decided to profile women owned businesses in chocolate, she was at the top of my list. She challenges herself, the medium of chocolate, and the industry in more ways than I have ever seen. Her Turmeric of a Goat Thing Bar, Strawberry Bar, and Nib Honey pushed the dark chocolate bar envelope. Despite the typical challenges to launch a company, she continues to move forward in her new Spanish surroundings.

This is an excerpt from our email exchange, I am including it to highlight the deep rooted connection one can have with cacao. I feel similarly just by enjoying a delicious bar of chocolate. I can’t imagine how it must feel to go through the entire process. (If you start having images of the film Chocolat or Like Water for Chocolate pop into your mind, you understand what I am saying here).

Turmeric of a Goat Thing Bar  Photo credit: WKND Chocolate

Turmeric of a Goat Thing Bar

Photo credit: WKND Chocolate

“Thank you Anelisa for asking me to participate in this! I certainly don't have all the answers - no less now that I find myself starting the business again in a new country, but it still feels incredibly auspicious that cacao is a part of my life. It grounds and connects me to my best self, while simultaneously introducing me to various facets of our world on a daily basis.

Even the phrase “running a sustainable business” -- as far as pure numbers are concerned or even the existence of a location/retailers is hard for me to come to terms with. Like you, I one day dream of having my own shop. What is sustainable and important to me at the moment, and perhaps this is very Seth Godin-y, is maintaining alive the culture and mystique of what WKND stands for. Chocolate is just one - but imperative - medium for how I communicate, but allows me the opportunity to be and do many different things: the Well Tempered podcast, group/community building, and the WKND brand. These are very distinct entities, but tied by a common thread. For that, I'm grateful that my life feels conjoined again.”

Why did you choose to start a business in craft chocolate?
I’ve been active from a young age (in the employment sense), as well as an idea generator; by the time I was seven I had a local paper route, and as a young adult I participated in an elite level of athletic training. Both of these experiences prepared me for the complexities and challenges of starting my own brand, and forever (I hope) manufacturing new concepts and projects of worth and service, both that inspire me and the public. Craft specialty chocolate has captivated me since the day I met it, and I keep coming back to it, even after being involved in other business ventures.

What is your "mojo" that keeps you going?
Quite honestly, some days are not as mojo-filled as others. However, my biggest push to move forward through the muck of life is focusing on what lies ahead, and the evergreen nature of improvement, knowledge gain, etc. I’ve come to discover that perfection doesn’t exist, betterment and heart do. This has also been a learning exercise because I'm extremely driven and motivated by collaboration and community, but ultimately I am the one that determines the outcome; my reactions to XYZ or my internal processing of a situation are what will get me through the day. Having peers to bounce off ideas and walk through scenarios, also aids me in that sense. In lighter terms, I find extreme satisfaction and a joie de vivre in small moments, whether in my own life or watching others in their daily activities. Stepping outside to go for a walk and hearing the leaves swirling on the sidewalk, a couple stealing a kiss on the metro, smiling at babies...yup, I'm that weirdo making faces at your kiddo.

What does success look like for you?
I feel that success is ever evolving, it's not a plateau that we arrive at, it's a metamorphosis. My current goals are not the same as they were 15 years ago, or even 15 months ago, and therefore my definition for success, or how I seek out the sensation to acknowledge success, is dynamic. I try my best to implement daily acts of gratitude; this practice encourages my general wellbeing, and thus also erodes further the line between what can feel like society’s mandated version of success and success as I want to see it.

What is your vision for the future of craft chocolate?
This is a really tough question, and I found myself baffled by an invented timeline, 5 years or 50 years? What I earnestly want is a more commensurate future for good chocolate, and for the people stewarding its growth and delight.
On a whole, my vision is that it spreads far and wide, that eventually craft will even be dropped from the language, it won't be the exception but the rule. Labels can have a deconstructive, isolating element to them, and I'd much prefer that flavor and transparency were the norm in chocolate, everywhere. I also would like to see it continuously decommodified and decentralized. More chocolate made by more companies :much: closer to where it’s grown, less money (and fame/consumer recognition) sucked through the gaps and into the pockets of those whom are far removed from its source, and ultimately its soul. All around, more connection-forward, less diluted transactional-based chocolate.
If we're going to continue to be a society based on consumption (and I don't see that ending, but perhaps also evolving), the essence of craft therefore is building an honest relationship of reliance and communication with makers and consumers of all kinds. Everyone is accountable for doing a job that best serves the next, the planet, and so on, and everyone is equitably acknowledged for said participation.

What chocolate best describes you?
Well....I'd be a blend certainly. Not single origin, but happily candid about the places and people that have created and influenced my character. Definitely with an unexpected and off-kilter inclusion like sansho pepper or saffron, in a comforting and reserved 56-62% dark milk chocolate. Melts easily, equally perfect for a high endurance hike or a night of foreign movies at home on the couch. Might make you cry.

Anelisa Lauri15 Comments