Shawn Askinosie, founder of one of our cherished partners, Askinosie Chocolate in Springfield, Missouri, recently paid our offices a visit to host a tasting of the ridiculously delicious chocolate he makes with two ingredients (cocoa beans and organic sugar). Along the way, he talked about his life, how he came to chocolate, and reaping the spiritual rewards of doing something the way you want to do it.
Shawn’s business model is simple: “We want to shorten the supply chain between me and the farmers and our customers,” he says. Sustaining it is anything but. As Shawn says (and Jeni knows well), “You have to be content with being discontent.”
In Shawn’s case, you also have to travel to the jungles of the globe to constantly nurture relationships with cocoa farmers and their communities because there’s no middle man between Askinosie Chocolate and the people who grow and harvest the beans.
But if there’s a man for such a job, it’s Shawn, a friend of Jeni’s the company and Jeni the company namesake. Shawn was a criminal defense lawyer for 20 years in Springfield, Missouri, specializing in high-profile murder cases and front-page felonies. About two decades into his career, he realized he no longer had the mental and physical energy his job demanded.
So, he decided to do something else—something else entirely. But there was a catch.
“I realized I didn’t know how to do anything else,” he said. “Anything.”
Toward the end of his tenure as an attorney, Shawn got more serious about baking, namely cupcakes. But after a while he started to wonder about one of the premium ingredients he was using: chocolate. Where did it come from? What was it made of? Within three months Shawn was in the Amazon studying how farmers can influence the taste of chocolate by how they grow and harvest the beans.
In 2006, Shawn bought a run-down building in a struggling section of Springfield. Today the building is home to Askinosie Chocolate, which provides the wonderful zero-additives, single-origin-bean-to-bar chocolate we use to make Askinosie Dark Milk Chocolate. (You’ll also find incredible Askinosie Dark Chocolate Malted Milk Bars in our shops and at jenis.com.) It’s also home to Shawn’s Chocolate University, which teaches neighborhood kids about the chocolate they love, direct trade, entrepreneurship and the world way beyond Springfield.
Shawn’s ongoing story truly is as remarkable as his chocolate. He’s a passionate, tireless guy who not only makes the best chocolate we’ve ever tasted, but is constantly figuring out new ways to improve and energize his local community through his work as well as the lives of the cocoa bean farmers who sustain his new-found career, see their faces on the wrappers of each chocolate bar, and—most important—share in the profits.
Cheers, Shawn and the entire Askinosie team, and please keep up the great work.