Valentine’s Day, Willy Wonka, and women – what is the one true love that they have in common? Chocolate, of course! And it is for this love that American expatriate Jeffrey G. Stern, left his former profession as an urban planner to start his very own chocolate business at Quito, Ecuador.
Jeffrey, a 42-year-old father of two who is married to a Ecuadorian wife, Maria Andrade, explained that the decision to start his own business was not an immediate one: “I decided I wasn’t happy working in bureaucracy and went to culinary school. After that, I worked in restaurants, did catering, was a chef, became a stay-at-home dad, then found my way into the part-time job chocolate business in Washington DC area.” Armed with the basics he got from his part-time chocolate job, the Southern Californian largely taught himself the wheels of running a full-time chocolate business. Together with his wife, one of their earliest trials included test marketing his chocolate creations during holiday visits to Ecuador. It was there that the couple spotted a gap in the Ecuadorian market – a need for fine quality, sophisticated chocolate which was almost unavailable then.
A few years of contemplating went by before Jeffrey finally took action to relocate his family to Quito, Ecuador in 2007, the same year which first saw the dark clouds of the economic crisis looming ahead. By then, Jeffrey and Maria had already started looking for overseas opportunities, so the timely decision to relocate fitted perfectly along with their years of invaluable research.
Initially, the transition proved to be more challenging than Jeffrey hoped. The new chocolate entrepreneur faced multiple bumpy rides with Ecuadorian bureaucracy in starting a business: “The biggest challenge of living in Ecuador is the lack of customer service. Doing business here is very difficult. Rules and laws changed daily and everything is arbitrary.” The frustrations seemed endless: the need to hire an “expediter” to handle permits and paperwork, receiving ambiguous answers to the same questions from government agencies, miscommunication and lack of cooperation between similar organisations. Most testing of all, enduring very slow payments. Still, Jeffrey was determined not to allow any difficulty stop their vision, and thus, Gianduja Chocolate was born.
Adopting a wholesale concept, Gianduja Chocolate does not have a store, but operates as a workshop, where visitors can witness the creation of velvety, artisan chocolate pieces as well as participate in chocolate tasting. The family business also offers visitors extensive chocolate excursions which comprise of insights and history on the cocoa harvesting, combing through the cocoa farms owned by local farmers, and enjoying the mechanics of large-scale chocolate production from farm to bar. Chocolate consultations and educational programs are also part of Gianduja Chocolates’ expanded business.
Offering over 20 chocolate varieties, Gianduja’s chocolates are made from pure Nacional chocolate, a top-quality kind of chocolate refined from Ecuador’s finest cocoa beans. Each piece of chocolate is free from artificial additives and fillers, hand-crafted into beautiful little artistic sculptures down to its tiniest detail. There are best-selling varieties like mendiants-chocolate discs with dried nuts and fruit, the chocolate bark with almonds bursting with orange essence, and the sweet milk chocolate truffle covered in chocolate flakes. Melt in your mouth that shiny purple heart-shaped Gianduja made from creamy milk chocolate blended with ground hazelnuts before it melts your heart, or let ooze the fresh passion fruit puree flavoured with wild raw honey and dark chocolate as you sink your teeth into its dark chocolate crust.
Other types of chocolate bonbons to delight in include salted caramel, cinnamon, meyer lemon and cinnamon caramel with coconut, just to name a few. Finish off with ice cream or coffee held in chocolate tulip cups and chocolate coffee cups, and you have just entered the 3rd heaven.
More than five years on, living in Ecuador has settled the dust for Jeffrey who takes pleasure in exploring the nearby Amazon rainforest, surfing the beaches and hiking the scenic mountains near Quito.
The unfortunate result from all this: his fine chocolates if exported, only deals with the USA. However, there is still every reason to cheer up as an 8-day chocolate tour has been planned for the year in 2013, so be sure to book your calendar and relive your Willy Wonka fantasies in Ecuador!
To find out more about Gianduja Chocolate, chocolate education and tours, visit http://www.giandujachocolate.com/ and http://jeffreygstern.com/blog/
This article was published on Vida De Latinos’ online magazine, 1 December 2013.
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