Believe it or not, the story behind this whole chocolate business starts with an auto repair shop in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Back in 2007, Jose Meza and Barbara Wilson retired from the auto repair shop that they had owned for many years in Ann Arbor. A native to Riobamba, Ecuador, Jose hadn’t been back to his home country in 41 years. The two decided to spend time in Ecuador, where they quickly fell in love with the pleasant climate and beautiful landscape. In 2008, they bought a plot of land in Mindo, a small town nestled in the cloud forest of the Andes Mountains.
Even though they had stepped out of the day-to-day operations of their Michigan-based business, they still wanted to stay in contact with the car shop. But there was a problem : it’s not easy--or cheap--to get internet access in the middle of the cloud forest, in the middle of the mountains, in the middle of Ecuador. Go figure.
So the two entrepreneurs opened an internet cafe to offset the high cost of internet access. They began roasting and serving locally grown coffee in the cafe, progressively adding menu items as time went on. Barbara began making brownies that were really good. Really, really good. So good that tourists who had tried them would beg to have them shipped to places as far as Belgium. Now there was another problem : Barbara couldn’t find quality chocolate in Ecuador to keep making the brownies. So on trips back and forth from Michigan, she would pack a few pounds of chocolate into her suitcase and fly it to Ecuador so the cafe could keep making the brownies. Ridiculous, right? Right. They thought so, too, and decided to do something about it.
“Something” involved a 53 lb bag of cocoa beans (what seemed like a massive amount at the time) and a tabletop juicer. It resulted in a rustic-style chocolate, a primitive first batch that led to many, many more. Things sort of snowballed from there -- the homemade chocolate took off as the cafe grew. Barbara and Jose devoted more and more time to cacao processing. They searched for farmers growing the fine-flavor Nacional variety of cacao in an environmentally-friendly way. On their property, they set up facilities that allowed them to ferment, dry, roast, and winnow cacao.
In 2009, Mindo Chocolate Makers opened in Dexter, Michigan. Almost by accident, the two entrepreneurs had set up a bean-to-bar chocolate making business that spanned international waters. Since that time, Jose and Barbara have been busy searching for ways to improve each part of the process, ultimately in pursuit of the most delicious finished chocolate. They split their time between Mindo and Dexter, keeping both sides of the operation in direct contact with each other -- a true bean-to-bar experience.
Because they’ve always kept “fun” as one of the most important tenets behind Mindo Chocolate Makers, Barbara and Jose have always been welcoming and open with information to anybody who wants to make chocolate on their own. Education about chocolate remains at the core of Mindo Chocolate Makers - from daily tours at our Ecuador facility, to week-long intensive chocolate making courses in both Dexter and Mindo.
Our company spans two countries, two continents, and over 3,000 miles, and as a result, our idea of community tends to be a little different from the norm. We believe our community includes anyone and everyone who comes into contact with our raw ingredients and finished products. We’re a small business, and no matter how big we grow, we’ll always have a small business mentality that relies on great people coming together -- our growers, our employees, our customers -- to create the most delicious chocolate experience possible.