Hello and good day!
"Hey Adam, why do your parents always buy you Payless shoes instead of Nikes?"
"Hey Adam, why are your socks always so dingy? Do you get your socks at Goodwill?"
"Hey Adam, do you cut your own hair? We can tell. Why don't you go to a barber?"
"Hey Adam, why doesn't your dad get a new car? He's been driving that same old hatchback Ford Escort the entire time you've been in school."
These are all questions that my friends at school asked me when I was growing up.
We lived in a rundown ghetto of a neighborhood. My next-door neighbor was a notorious Latino gang member. From time to time, I'd be shooting hoops in the driveway and my basketball would bounce over the fence into his backyard. I had to walk onto his porch through a yard filled with tatted up gangsters who were lifting weights and wrenching on low riders they'd parked on the front lawn.
They never gave me a hard time though.
I'd knock on the door, and he'd peek his head out, his eyes squinted and bloodshot red. "Hey little boy, you need your ball?"
"Yeah. Sorry." "It's ok. I'll throw it over."
"Thank you." I went running back in time to see him throw the ball. He was big and strong and wholly uncoordinated. His throwing motion was awful and sometimes he wouldn't get the ball over on his first try. It would bounce off the top of the fence and then he'd have to crouch down and take a second go at it.
At that time my dad had a net worth of around ten million dollars, and this was back in the late eighties, early nineties, when money was worth more.
The property he owned, a beautiful hotel called the Horton Grand Hotel in downtown San Diego, California is worth around $50 million now. We lost the hotel when I was eleven and my dad had to declare bankruptcy.
I've written about this many times over the past couple of years.
Seeing your dad lose it all and fall into depression only to rise from the ashes to launch a successful chocolate company does a lot for your resiliency.
You learn how to keep moving forward no matter what. That is the obvious lesson.
But what I've always had a hard time reconciling is why we were living so poor when our net worth was strong. I can't recall buying a name brand pair of shoes until I was in my late teens and had my own job. Most of my apparel was from Goodwill.
My parents bussed me to school in a better neighborhood because the local school was just too rugged, and my skin tone would have made me an easy victim.
At school, my friends were mostly from affluent families. I remember one friend in particular who lived in a very swanky house. He slept in a loft that was bolted to the wall, high off the ground. His room ceiling was extraordinarily high. There was a tall ladder he climbed to get into bed at night, and he had a foam pit on the ground underneath his bed. When he woke up in the morning, he jumped down into the foam pit.
This struck me as the most spectacular thing I'd ever seen.
At the end of the day, my mom came to pick me up in her tiny red Ford Fiesta and we went home. I wanted so badly to live in a mansion too.
But here is what never clicked for me. The hotel that my family owned, where I spent much of my free time, was about 40 times bigger than my friend's house.
It had 200 bedrooms and 200 bathrooms. It had banquet halls, courtyards, a restaurant, and a bar. On Friday nights a really good jazz band played in the bar, and I always had a front row seat. I ate food prepared by a professional chef and when the check came, I didn't have to pay. I just initialed the check and sent it back. An eight-year-old, initialing a tab to settle up.
I still felt like crap wearing payless shoes though. I didn't have the proper perspective.
And now, here at Fortunato Chocolate, we are a self-funded inventory company. We buy cacao wet off of trees in northern Peru. We do all of our own fermenting and drying in a post-harvest processing facility that we built and that we operate. We voluntarily pay ten times fair trade premiums to our cacao farm partners.
Our supply chain takes 8 months under perfect circumstances which means that we float a dollar out into the world and the earliest we can possibly get it back is 8 months in the future.
As such, most of our family's net worth is tied up in cacao and chocolate inventory sitting in warehouses in the Peruvian jungle, the Swiss Alps, or Issaquah, WA.
If we were to sell the company tomorrow, we could cash out big time, but we'd rather have the company than the cash. For us, it is much more fun and fulfilling to be able to share the company and our products with our wonderful friends and customers.
When I came to grips with this realization a few years back, my whole childhood began to make a lot more sense.
My dad had our cash tied up in this unique asset and for him true wealth was being able to share what he'd created with the world.
And this is what I love most about owning a chocolate company.
We have the great privilege of creating products that we love and sharing them with people we care about.
I'm running out of space now, so I have to quickly take care of business.
I just put a new product online. It is the third most popular product in our retail stores. I am talking about our excellent dark chocolate mangos, made with Fortunato No. 4 68% dark chocolate.
I love dried mangos for their texture and tanginess. Dark chocolate is a great pairing because the sweetness of the mango is reeled in by the rich cacao flavor of dark chocolate.
We originally picked up the product idea at Costco. As an aside, I love Costco. Their global headquarters is right here in our small town of Issaquah, WA. They are the biggest employer in town, and I regard them as a truly miraculous company.
I know what it takes to manage the supply chain for our small family business.
That they are able to distribute such large quantities of so many physical products all over the world is a mind-boggling feat. A tip of the cap to them.
But with all due respect, our dark chocolate mangos are a greatly improved version of their offering.
We loved the concept of their product, and we knew immediately that we could make it ourselves.
And this gets to the heart of what is great about owning a business. We have an idea, and we are able to carry it out and share it.
None of the owners of our company live in big fancy houses. I drive a beat up old 2008 Rav4 (oh Lord, I have become my father).
Our perception of wealth is the good we can do in the world and the happiness we can generate.
If you'd like to pick up a bag of our dark chocolate mangos, simply click the link below.
Also, before signing off, I'd like to let you know that we put up a new video on the home page of our website. A local videographer made it for us, and we think it came out awesome.
By the way, that's me talking in the video.
If you need promotional work for your business, I can't recommend Cassie and Pika Films highly enough.
Thank you so much for your time today. I hope that you have a truly blessed day!