You may know entrepreneur Patricia Tsai from her stirring Ted Talk, seen her chocolates at this summer’s LA Original Pop-Up at The MOCA, or you may be a regular at her Culver City storefront. Patricia’s the force behind ChocoVivo, a chocolatier making chocolate from bean-to-bar in the traditional way of the Aztecs and Mayans. ChocoVivo was also one of the amazing sponsors of our Content Creation Lab™. I recently sat down with Patricia over one of ChocoVivo’s delectable hot chocolates to chat about her unique entrepreneurial experience.
What’s your favorite coffee shop? What do you love about it / their coffee?
I don’t actually drink coffee so part of the reason ChocoVivo is important is because we offer people another stimulant other than Coffee. Chocolate gives you an even-keeled energy throughout the day and makes you full because of the fat content. It’s already a natural bullet proof coffee.
Chocolate and coffee are a pretty great combo. How do you traditionally pair your chocolates with coffee?
We are known for our mochas which is a hot or cold chocolate drink with shots of espresso. Our espresso comes from a local roaster in Venice, aptly called Jetty.
We also like to recommend a shot of espresso with a chocolate tasting where people can choose between, 3, 6, or 13 pieces of dark chocolate. The espresso helps to cleanse the palate before each flavor.
Can you tell me about the beginning your entrepreneurial journey. How did you leave the corporate world for ChocoVivo? Has the fact that you’re a female solopreneur impacted your journey at all?
I definitely spent time building [ChocoVivo] up. I always wondered when would be the right time to jump the corporate ship. That time came when I could no longer do this and work my corporate day job crammed in 1 day. I needed that extra day to focus on my business.
Being a female didn’t really impact me until now. Building my business, I was somewhat numb to the negativity and pitfalls, because for 10 years my parents and friends were (probably) laughing at me. Of course my parents were tiger parents who ridiculed this idea. My father asked me, after he found out that I quit my corporate job: “Are you sure you like chocolate?”
Why was it important for you to make chocolate the way the Mayans did thousands of year ago?
I knew I needed to differentiate myself within the marketplace. Why make chocolate like everyone does? Through that practice, I realized where the road was leading me to, authenticity of how they made it, drank it, and ate it.
Your website mentions that you wanted to understand the “social and commercial impact of chocolate in society.” Can you tell me about those impacts?
In the beginning, I knew that I wanted to create something that had a positive impact. Not exactly sure what that looked like and didn’t understand how business really worked in the chocolate industry. Cacao was something so revered to the point it was currency and now it’s a cheap commodity. The biggest social impact ChocoVivo can do is have a direct relationship with our grower where we know intimately when the beans are harvested, how they are being processed, and payment is made directly to him. Our relationship with the farm is like having a cacao farm in our backyard. An example of the benefits that we can see first-hand in having this trusting relationship was my request in getting high quality Nibs which he didn’t have at the time. Most chocolate makers have a winnower to take the shells off the beans. Instead of investing in heavy machinery, my grower and I worked out something mutually beneficial. He would winnow the beans for us at a very low temperature to make sure we still received raw nibs. It’s a tedious process but it has provided extra jobs for the people in that area. It’s great to know that we can have this direct impact supporting an artisanal farm in an industry where cacao is a commodity on a large commercial level.
You have a storefront in Culver City. It has a very natural, woodsy aesthetic. Can you tell me how you came to that design and how it impacts the chocolate experience?
I wanted to create something that was a blend of modern and natural. I asked two designers if Sprinkles meets Anthropologie, what would that look like?
What’s next for ChocoVivo?
The world is changing quickly not just from a retail landscape, but also on a human connectivity level. We can continue to build retail and continue to sell the next new chocolate bar. But I think we’ve reached a saturation point of selling widgets just to sell. Amazon will always be there for people to have easier accessibility to buy things. More stuff doesn’t bring more happiness. It’s the intangible. Call it New Age Consciousness, Frequency, Quantum Physics, we are now waking and questioning our decisions and our way of thinking. I’m trying to find what will make ChocoVivo more relevant, different, and elevated. I’m an adventurer and wanderer, but also have a logical business-mind. High-powdered men and advisors said these things to me in the beginning when ChocoVivo was an idea:
“Don’t go into retail.”
“If you don’t have a business plan, you aren’t going to succeed.”
“The Los Angeles market is not going to be receptive towards chocolate.”
Best of all, USC MBA students who did a feasibility study on ChocoVivo said,
“Your project is not feasible, move to San Francisco.”
It’s refreshing to say, after 10 years of blood, sweat and tears, they were wrong. I think this next stage of ChocoVivo will be the most exciting part. I’m at a sweet spot in my life and could have pursued that dream of living in a van with the doors wide open and looking into that vast blue ocean not having to create another spreadsheet, make a To Do List, have people asking me for things, be on call 24 hours. But I chose to open myself back up and stretch myself even further. So to answer your question, the next step for ChocoVivo is figuring out how people can experience chocolate in a complete 360 degree way. Something more meaningful than just eating another bar of chocolate at our shop in ChocoVivo. It’s taking them outside of their normal comfort zones and really experiencing something that they wouldn’t be able to do in 4 walls.
// All photography by STRUKTR’s Marni Epstein-Mervis
DRINK UP MORE COFFEE WITHS….