Weston native sees sweet future in chocolate bar business
Step right up and design your custom chocolate bar, starting with a base of white, dark or milk chocolate and adding any of 83 special ingredients. The smorgasbord ranges from 22 karat gold powder and rose petals to bacon and cayenne pepper, fruits, nuts herbs and candies.
The invite to get into this brand new thing -- customizing one's chocolate bar -- comes from Nick LaCava, 23, of Weston. He's joined with two former Columbia University "chocoholic" roomies to "form the first American company that allows you to design your own chocolate bar."
The firm LaCava formed with Eric Heinbbocker and Fabian Kaempfer is Chocomize: Customize Your Chocolate, LLC, based in Cherry Hill, N.J.
He told all about it during a phone interview Wednesday from San Diego. LaCava, a proficient pianist who has been in training since the age of six, was out west with 48 other members of the U.S. National Rowing Team practicing for the November Olympic rowing competition.
"My partners and I are recent college graduates and entrepreneurs who reconsidered the traditional corporate career path after the breakout of the economic crisis when we graduated in the spring," he said. "We talked of our love of chocolate and out of that, by brainstorming, we came up with the idea of giving people the option to design their own chocolate bars."
The young entrepreneurs sprung the first results of their enterprise batches at pedestrians passing by the corner of 52nd Street and Madison Avenue the Sunday before Thanksgiving. During a sidewalk fair, they passed out samples of their product. The folks were given a blurb telling how to order customized chocolate bars at the company's Web site, www.Chocomize.com.
"Many came back for seconds, saying they've never tasted chocolate so delicious," LaCava recalled.
"The enterprise took off after that," said LaCava, who majored in economics. "And we were glad; thinking our planning is paying off. There's a vast market for our customized chocolate bars."
Getting the venture off the ground wasn't all milk and honey -- even though the Web site, launched last month, has been enjoying early success.
"There have been many stressful and hair-raising situations regarding the start up," LaCava said. "As one can imagine, things rarely go according to plan, but luckily they often times seem to work out."
"That was the story of out Saturday before our big street fair in New York," he continued. "Everything was set to go. Our machines had arrived from Germany. Our other equipment was in place. Our production facililty was spick and span. Our ingredients were ready to be happily dunked into the chocolate bars they would call home."
"There was just one problem," LaCava said. "Electricity."
"Our electrician had a series of family emergencies and was not able to come out to our factory during the week preceding the big Sunday debut in Manhattan at the corner of Madison and 53rd.
"Our machines are fairly complicated electrically. They are European and need to be rewired for American standards. They also run on what what's called three phase electricity. Three phase is a highly efficient way of powering larger equipment."
"We had 600 bars of chocolate to make before the street fair the next day. If we didn't get getting hooked up, we could only produce four bars at time, and be in for an all-nighter equal to those of our college days," LaCava said.
The electrician eventually arrived, production started and the street fair was a success.
Now Chocomize is looking to tap into people's online purchasing habits, and provide an outlet for their sweet tooth. The deal is further sweetened by the fact that a portion of the company's profits will be donated to charity.
The cool thing is that the consumer can choose the charity they want to donate to," LaCava said.
Popular bars LaCava and his partners think folks might want to consider include:
"¢ The Romance Bar: The dark chocolate bar contains 22 Karat gold flakes, chocolate butterflies, strawberries, rose petals.
"¢ That Nuts: Dark chocolate containing pecan halves, walnuts, butter toasted peanuts, hazelnuts.
"¢ Candy Bar: Dark chocolate containing Gummi Bears, chocolate candy, Pop Rocks, Sour Patch Kids.
"¢ Spicy Special Bar: Dark chocolate contains black peppercorns, organic date pieces, wasabi peas.
"¢ Tropical Island Bar: Dark chocolate containing banana chips, coconut flakes, cantaloupe melon dices, pineapple dices.
LaCava and his partners noted that with the three kinds of chocolate -- white, dark, milk -- and 83 available ingredients, more than 10 billion possible chocolate combinations are possible. The graduates of the Ivy League university also figured:
"If everyone in New York City ate one different chocolate bar a day, it would take over three years before two people had exactly the same chocolate bar."
LaCava said Chocomize can handle holiday gifts if placed five days in advance. A one-pound package of five 3.5 ounce bars costs $30, including shipping and handling.
For more information, visit www.Chocomize.com