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Don't Take

Don't Take "No" For An Answer

Hello and good day!

I received a phone call from my dad late one night about 11 years ago.

I was in my tiny one-bedroom apartment in Issaquah, WA, sitting at my home office desk in my pajamas. The desk was in the corner of our very small living room, tucked behind a used couch that my wife and I had found in an alley in San Diego.

In some neighborhoods in San Diego, people leave used stuff in the alley behind their house for people to pick up and take home. You can find pretty good furniture in the nicer neighborhoods.

When we made the move from San Diego to Washington state, we brought the teal leather couch set with us.

My dad had been calling me every day to give me updates about how the trip was going with Anthony Bourdain.

Bourdain was in Peru, visiting our operation, to include our story in an episode of Parts Unknown.

"How did it go today?" I asked.

"Adam. There is something you should know. Never forget this for as long as you live. Your brother Brian is a giant," said my dad.

"I've already known that for a long-time pop. Did something special happen on the trip to make you remind me?"

"You wouldn't have believed it, Adam. Nobody here could believe what a giant Brian is."

Back in 2013, there was no bridge across the Chinchipe River.

The Chinchipe is a fat brown river that runs south from Ecuador through rolling, green, mountainous, jungle countryside. It swivels in front of the canyon where we buy cacao and continues south until it joins forces with the Marañón River.

The Marañón is the largest northern tributary to the Amazon River.

Before there was a bridge, there were two ways to cross the Chinchipe and make your way back into the canyon that is the District of Huarango.

The easiest way to transport large loads across the river was on two floating platform barges that were connected to thick metal cables strung about 20 feet in the air above the river. The cables were fastened into the face of a 40-foot-tall cliff on one side of the river and into the ground on the other side.

The platforms were pulled across by the river's current.

This was how we exported cacao out of the canyon for 8 long years.

The barge was flat and large enough to drive three cars onto.

When the river was too full, the platform barges didn't cross. The rushing current flipped them over too easily.

As you can imagine, this made exporting cacao pretty dicey.

We had to schedule our spot on a cargo boat in Lima weeks in advance and then we had to pray that the rains wouldn't be too strong when it came time to float a truck filled with cacao across the river.

We had to pay for the space on the cargo ship in advance, but they wouldn't wait for us if we showed up late.

Every load that we exported was at the whim of the river.

The other way across the river was in long balsa wood canoes with outboard motors. This was a good and efficient way to cross, and the canoes continued in service even when the river was high.

But they were not good for transporting heavy loads.

On the day when Bourdain showed up with his film crew, the rains had been heavy and terrible. The Chinchipe was gushing hard.

It was loud and choppy, with spitting white ridges, and the platform barges weren't in service.

Bourdain and the crew had come with three rented pickup trucks.

Two were filled with people.

One was filled with about $100,000 worth of cutting-edge camera gear.

Had the barges been making runs, the three trucks could have driven onto a single square grey platform and crossed in a matter of 15 minutes.

But without the barges, it wasn't clear how to proceed.

I should mention here how important this opportunity was to our family business.

We'd been in business about 5 years at that point.

For 2 years we made no sales.

All of our time and money was spent on learning how to buy and process cacao and on building a processing facility in the jungle in an abandoned rice mill.

By 2013, we had been gaining traction in the marketplace.

We had a reputation for having rediscovered a thought to be extinct variety of cacao, and those who worked with us agreed that we made very delicious chocolate.

However, we weren't growing as fast as we would have liked, and there were cacao farmers who wanted to join our project who we couldn't accept because we weren't doing enough volume.

We figured that an appearance on Parts Unknown would give us a great push forward.

But the trucks were sitting on the wrong side of the river and the platform barges weren't running.


Everybody in the group stood on the riverbank in the hard rain staring at the river, not knowing what to do.

"No," Brian mumbled to himself.

My dad was standing next to him in the rain.

"What was that, Brian?" asked my dad.

"I said no. We're not staying here. We're not missing our chance."

Brian turned to Bourdain's crew and started barking orders.

"Take all the gear out of the truck. We're crossing on canoes," shouted Brian.

Brian walked down to the concrete launch pad next to the river, where passengers boarded canoes, and where canoe drivers waited for fares.

He made arrangements to rent every single canoe on the river until all of the gear was transported across.

Then he walked up the bank to the foot of the tall grey cliff where the trucks were parked and where Anthony Bourdain was waiting with my dad and world-renowned chef Eric Ripert.

"You guys are going first. You can get a beer in a bar while you wait. I am going to make sure everything gets across safely."

My dad and Bourdain and Ripert walked down the small hill, in the heavy rain, to the launch pad and climbed into a long canoe.

Back before there was a bridge, when the river was very strong, and you had to cross in a long canoe, the river pushed the canoe three hundred meters down river.

As the canoe drifted away, it looked as if the driver had lost control, and the little vessel seemed like it would be swept away down the river and carried off into oblivion.

But there was a break in the river three hundred meters down where two currents on either side of the river collided in a whirlpool and canoes could circle around the outside, punch their motor and power back upriver to the opposing bank.

My dad took the ride with Bourdain and Ripert and when they made it across, they retired to a cantina with a big window overlooking the river, where they could watch the action and drink beer.

My brother took fifteen rides over the course of the next two hours, across the wild river, in the rain, transporting the gear and crew across one ride at a time.

When the final canoe made it across, all of the expensive camera equipment was laying in the street of a small jungle town, covered by a polyurethane tarp.

Unfortunately, with the trucks back on the other side of the river, parked up against a cliff, the group had no way to drive into the canyon to film the segment.

Brian proceeded to rent every available taxi and car in town.

Unbelievably, this story is just getting started but I am running out of space for now.

I will continue on tomorrow.

While my dad was telling me all this, back in 2013, I was sitting at my desk in my small dry apartment, agog, holding the phone to my ear, hanging on every word.

Here is what made me think of this.

We recently received a little bit of bad business news.

It wasn't anything too serious, but it was something that was important to me personally and I wasn't prepared to get a no.

Like most people, my first response was to become dejected and disappointed.

But I've learned something over the years from watching my dad and brother.

You don't have to accept "no" for an answer.

There may be another solution and you just have to be hardnosed enough to figure it out.

As it pertains to the problem I was facing, I have already found a work around with the help of our wonderful team.

I'd like to encourage you to respond to "no" answers with a resounding "no" of your own.

I don't accept that no!

Sometimes there are problems that truly can't be overcome.

But most times, if you put your foot down, you can make yourself find a way forward.

I will continue on with the amazing story about my brother and Anthony Bourdain tomorrow.

Thank you so much for time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!


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