Brought Together by Chocolate

Leslie Berliant

Leslie Berliant › Leslie Berliant is the owner of Le Marais Chocolat, a chocolate company using locally sourced, organic ...

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This is not a love story, it’s a love of chocolate story. Let’s just get that out of the way upfront!

When I first launched Le Marais Chocolat in January of this year, I had no idea what to expect. With my daughter graduating high school, my identity as a single mom was changing and my partnership in a successful cause marketing and PR business was leaving me a bit wanting. I needed to shake things up! So I listened to the prodding of some friends, took a leap of faith and started a business selling my small batch, hand-dipped truffles made from organic Fair Trade chocolate. I called it Le Marais Chocolat after the once aristocratic, then rundown and now terribly shabby chic neighborhood in Paris that I so enjoy visiting. Going from a career in cause marketing and PR to chocolate at 45 years old may seem like an odd evolution. For me, however, it has been the natural result of a lifetime of cooking and two years of selling truffles to friends and family to raise money for a charity I co-founded, BLU MOON Foundation and our Haiti Orphanage Adoption Program.

I knew that once I took the plunge and gave it a name and a logo, I wanted to do things right. For me, this meant walking my talk and committing to using only organic Fair Trade Certified chocolate. I’ve known about Fair Trade for awhile – a market-based social justice system under which products grown in developing countries are certified to make sure that they are farmed sustainably and that the workers and farmers are paid a fair wage. After learning about the use of child slave labor in the cocoa trade, I became a Fair Trade chocolate devotee… some might even say proselytizer. People should know if they eat chocolate that isn’t Fair Trade, it almost invariably includes cocoa farmed by children under horrifying conditions.

I want to be part of the team of people that are telling the Fair Trade story. In order to do that, I made a decision that Le Marais Chocolat be Fair Trade Certified and carry the Fair Trade mark. I have found that for those who understand Fair Trade, this is a great selling point. And for those that ask why I can’t make a lower end product using conventional chocolate, I know that they simply don’t yet understand the social mission. To me, the Fair Trade label is a guarantee that the goods you are buying had a benefit for the people farming them and the communities where they live. I think of it as the Good Housekeeping Seal of food social justice.

Starting a business as a single mom without a lot of resources is daunting. And while friends and family have been very supportive, one person strongly suggested that I turn to Kickstarter (an online crowd-sourced fundraising platform) to raise money for my Fair Trade Certification and to help offset some of my other costs. I set up my project to Kickstart Le Marais Chocolat Fair Trade Certification and decided to create some good karma for my own project getting funded by pledging toward some other projects. Of course, I gravitated toward food and chocolate.

That’s where I found Danny and knew we were meant to connect. Actually, I met Danny’s Kickstarter page, The Placebo Chocolate Project, first and I instantly felt that Zing! of common ideals. Their goal is to spread love and connection through chocolate, the very same words I use when I talk about my mission for Le Marais Chocolat. We both have a social mission, too, including promoting Fair Trade chocolate and supporting kids – Placebo Chocolate Project through giving away beautifully etched chocolate bars with inspirational messages and Le Marais Chocolat by giving a portion of proceeds to supporting orphanages in Haiti.

After pledging to one another’s projects – the Kickstarter equivalent of eyeing someone across a bar – we sent mutual thank you notes and struck up a dialogue via Skype about our common ideals and goals. It turned out we had even more shared experience than Kickstarter, Fair Trade and chocolate. Danny is currently living in Peru with his fiancé, but he had lived in the same city where I now reside, Santa Monica, California. We both had started and run businesses that had nothing to do with food or chocolate, and we were both in places of transition and soul searching.

And for both of us, those life changes have brought us toward chocolate.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve become friends, even posting about one another’s projects on social media and regularly chatting on Skype about chocolate, fundraising and life. This week, we even sent out a joint press release to local papers to try and garner more support for our Kickstarter projects.

Both of our projects are about halfway through their fundraising goals with 11 days and 16 days until our deadlines. We only receive our pledged support if the projects are fully funded by the deadlines so we’ve decided to help each other get there by reaching out to our respective networks. It might seem counter-intuitive to ask for money for someone else when you are fundraising yourself, but what I’ve discovered through talking with Danny is that Kickstarter is less about asking for money than asking for people to become part of a community by supporting a vision and joining in a mission. And for those who pledge to either or both projects, I know that they are guaranteed not just delicious chocolate in their future, but the joy that comes from being part of a mission to do good in the world.

In the meantime, I have been working away in the kitchen on fulfilling orders of my spring flavors – blood orange, tart cherry with maca, caramelized honey with fleur de sel and black walnuts and our signature Le Petit Prince truffle made with the fruit of the baobab tree and roses – and working the Farmer’s Market circuit. Every few days, Danny and I check in with each other.

He is in town this week and we broke bread (or rather, chocolate) together. I’ve always known that sharing meals can be as much about connection as it is about flavor. Although Danny and I have only shared one meal together, we have connected across borders and time zones through a common concept around food to find that we are in many ways already sitting at the same table.

Do you believe in supporting Fair Trade chocolate?

Photo Credit: Le Marais Chocolat