Hello and good day!
Please take a look at the first photo above.That was our very first cacao processing facility.
The fellow on the left is my brother Brian and the fellow on the right is my brother-in-law Miguel.
For more than a year, they slept together in the grey brick room that you can see in the background. It was a tiny room and they shared bunk beds. Brian had the bottom bunk and Miguel took the top.
The property was an abandoned parking lot that we rented in the city of Jaen, in northern Peru.
So, there they were, two grown men, living in an abandoned parking lot, bunking together in a tiny room, and having bonfires in the evening with their shirts off.
During the day, they rode motorcycles out to cacao farms along the Jaen-San Ignacio road.
The Jaen-San Ignacio road is east of Jaen and runs north through vast and stunning jungle farmland before coming to the clean, orderly, and calm city of San Ignacio, which shares a border with Ecuador.
Along the road, there are many small farming towns.
The cash crops are cacao, coffee, and rice.
It is very common to end up stuck behind herds of cattle on the Jaen-San Ignacio.
Many farm families own property on either side of the road. Throughout the day, farmers shepherd cows across, from one plot of pastureland to another.
So, there they were, two men on motorcycles, many times in a hard rain, stuck behind a herd of cattle that an old woman was shushing across with a switch, buckets of fresh cacao strapped to the back of their seats, waiting to go back to their rented parking lot to try their hand at processing cacao.
In the bonfire picture you can see one of our first fermentation boxes back behind Miguel.
That was the extent of our cacao processing operation for a long stretch.
Wooden boxes on a dirt floor next to a fire pit.
After coming back from buying cacao, they dumped fresh cacao into the fermenter boxes and then monitored its progress for the next seven days.
Their hope was to understand the metrics that signaled properly fermented cacao.
Once we understood how to process cacao correctly, we planned to build a bigger and more formal facility that integrated our findings into operational systems.
We knew what our long-term goals were. There was a method to our madness.
By the way, this all occurred before my brother came across a thought to be extinct variety of cacao growing in the district of Huarango, which is one of the many districts along the Jaen-San Ignacio road, about an hour and a half north of Jaen.
As a family, we had already decided to go all in on cacao one way or the other. Since the 40% white bean cacao are very rare.
The rediscovery of pure Nacional was a lucky break along the way, not a part of our original decision-making calculus.
I mention that to point out how Brian and Miguel seemed to everybody who knew them at that time.
They seemed absolutely off their rockers.
It would have been one thing if we already knew about the rare cacao that was growing in a huge canyon up the road from Jaen.
But we didn't.
That came a year and a half later.
Our mission was simply to get into the cacao and chocolate business by learning how to buy cacao and process 40% white bean cacao it to the best of our ability.
After that, we'd figure the rest out one step at a time.
The optics and the story were not great.
Brian's wife had a successful career as a financial analyst with a big gold mine. There is a lot of cultural pressure in Peru for a husband to outearn his wife.
Brian taught English to make ends meet.
He drew a small stipend from my dad's life savings.
His wife was outearning him by a long shot and he was leaving home every two weeks to go live in an abandoned parking lot and write down on paper what he observed happening with seeds in a wooden box.
Those were tough times for my dear brother and his family.
Meanwhile, the farmers who sold cacao to Brian and Miguel figured they were taking advantage of crazy people.
The gringo was paying far above local prices and only buying quantities small enough to strap to the back of motorcycles.
There was no good explanation for it.
Neighbors in Jaen wondered what the gringo and his young Peruvian sidekick were doing, riding motorcycles out to the jungle every day and living together on that tiny property, inside tall brick walls.
In the United States, my 69-year-old father was spending his life savings funding the venture.
I was doing payroll for the department of defense.
I remember telling my coworkers that our family had started a chocolate business.
They asked what exactly that meant.
I explained what my brother was doing.
For the life of them, they couldn't understand how that equated to starting a chocolate business.
I kept trying to give them updates, but it all sounded too farfetched, and I could see the incredulity on their faces.
Nowadays, if you visit our website or come into one of our shops, it all seems very nice and well put together.
You'd never guess that the roots of our business are grounded in years of carrying out activities that many people considered to be acts of sheer insanity.
It is very hard to oversell just how crazy the people in Brian's life thought he was.
Anyhow, I mention all of this because most new ventures seem crazy in the beginning.
Actually, they don't seem crazy, they are crazy.
You begin on a journey with only a slight idea of how things might turn out.
For years there isn't much to show for your effort.
Once the initial enthusiasm wears off and you find yourself in an interminable grind, year after year, you start to think that maybe everybody was right.
Maybe you are a lunatic.
And then, little by little, your efforts manifest into something that makes sense to people.
They weren't there for the crazy part when you were sleeping in a parking lot.
Now everything seems perfectly sane and rational.
I mention all this to let you know that it is ok if people think you are nuts because of some goal you are working on.
That is the nature of new ventures.
The key is to prove your sanity by sticking with it long enough.
Thank you so much for your time today.
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!
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