I t started in a Missouri kitchen with a coffee grinder and a bag of beans. At the time, the only thing Shawn Askinosie knew about chocolate was that he liked eating it. He was a criminal defense attorney who didn’t have time for hobbies. His work was his life, but he knew it wasn’t his life’s work.
That was back in 2005, or “Before Chocolate” as Askinosie calls it. It was before the focus groups disguised as “free chocolate tastings,” before the many meetings with indigenous cocoa farmers, before his kitchen operation grew into a downtown factory with a 6,000-pound granite melangeur.
A little over a decade later, Askinosie is now the founder and CEO of Askinosie Chocolate, a father-daughter business with local roots and global reach. Askinosie Chocolate partners with cocoa growers in four countries—Amazonia, Ecuador, the Philippines, and Tanzania—but building a global network didn’t happen overnight.
Early in his work, Askinosie learned that many “common sense” business practices—trading directly with growers, visiting cocoa farms in person, and profit sharing with origin communities—were not employed by the country’s largest chocolate manufacturers because doing so can add additional costs to the production process.
For Askinosie Chocolate, investing in partner communities isn’t just the right thing to do. “It’s the only thing to do,” says chief marketing officer Lawren Askinosie. In Mababu and Davao, two villages where the company sources cocoa beans, Askinosie has provided families with more than 1.1 million school lunches through its Sustainable Lunches Program.
Closer to home, the Askinosie Chocolate factory is located in what was once a blighted area of Springfield, Missouri. Over the last decade, their presence has brought new life and business to the neighborhood through factory tours and youth empowerment programs. In 2007, Askinosie launched Chocolate University, which started as a program for local elementary and middle school students and later expanded into a business immersion program for high school juniors and seniors. “It’s very fulfilling for me to be able to use our chocolate to empower these bright, engaged kids who are going to be our future leaders,” says Lawren Askinosie. “For us, it’s about more than how our beans taste. It’s about what we can do with them.”