Mott was a special person within the chocolate world, partly because of his accomplishments: running a profitable tree-to-bean chocolate company, making great chocolate at a decent price point and putting Grenada on the map as a fine chocolate destination. While his death leaves a void and many questions for the Grenada Chocolate Company, the truth is that we lost a wonderful person. Mott was a crazy combination of kindness, gentleness and intense focus. He spoke quickly and softly, and I’m grateful I had the chance to meet him.
Here’s a snippet of our conversation from the 2012 Northwest Chocolate Festival.
What is Grenada Chocolate Company known for?
We’re a cooperative of cocoa farmers that have been certified organic in Grenada. We have our own little chocolate factory right in the village around most of our farms and we make our own chocolate, right there on site. We do our own fermenting and drying of the cocoa we grow as a group. And we have our own factory with separate staff and we all run the whole operation from tree to bar, cooperatively.
We were founded in 2001. I’m the founder and I’m still sort of the main chocolate maker. My partner Edmond is a co-founder. He’s from the village right there, it’s called Hermitage. He was my oldest friend in the village and became a co-founder together with a third partner from Oregon, who sadly passed away a few years ago. Over the years we’ve turned over our shares to a cooperative of cocoa farmers. But anyway, Edmond is with me, he’s a senior chocolate maker. As I’m travelling, he’s making chocolate, managing the business.
Grenadans are very clever. We have a tight ship set up. They do their thing, together or alone, and no one needs to direct them, actually. So unless something goes wrong or breaks, it’s amazing. It just seems to flow.
How did you come to chocolate?
By living in Grenada and experimenting with living in the woods and growing food in the Caribbean hills. I was surrounded by cocoa trees and fell in love with the tree and the way people use it in a micro-way. In their kitchens they make a drink all over the Caribbean and central South America from cocoa. It’s just pure…it’s like drinking pure cocoa liquor, cocoa balls they call them, or cocoa sticks. In Mexico they mix it with sugar, it’s all the same sort of thing. And of course they grind cocoa.
That was the whole thing. I became a cocoa hobbyist. I learned to do that. I would carry beans around with me when I was travelling from Grenada and make concoctions in people’s houses. I was a cocoa hobbyist, an engineering dropout, an activist and really into Grenada. I saw a need for a fun way to try to help my cocoa farming friends. I just wondered, “why isn’t anyone actually making chocolate on the farm?” And I found out it is actually quite challenging for many reasons, but it’s feasible. That’s what we’re proving. It’s not marginally profitable but we’ve managed to keep alive for 11 years with high salaries for everyone.
What’s the best part of your job?
Roasting cocoa and being around it 24/7. The smells, which is kind of a physical-romantic thing. Just being around that all the time. I never get tired of that. I live by myself and I’m sort of intense by nature, so it’s kind of a thrill for me to live right in the factory, which I’ve done for 11 years. I’m on night duty every night. It’s fun to be so immersed in something that continues to interest me.
We’re always getting into new things and it’s a huge challenge to get more and more cocoa into the project and being able to ferment and dry it all. So I enjoy the whole challenge of it all.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Our biggest challenge has changed. Three years ago if you’d asked me that, our biggest challenge would have been to get more cocoa bens certified organic and in the project, so we could meet demand and develop the machinery a little more. We’ve done that. We’ve tripled the yield of cocoa and chocolate.
We just managed, after two to three years of intensive work of exporting it, to get to a point where we can sell all of that, which is good. But profitability is marginal on our exports. It remains an experiment for us. We proved with our local market in Grenada, where it’s much easier, that we could make a very small project be viable. But, to get more farmers involved and keep growing and investing in doing it, means we have to keep exporting more and more. And there are the difficulties and complexities of logistics and the numbers in the exporting thing for us, because we’re a remote tropical island and it’s so hot, and it’s hard to get the chocolate to the market. So we have middle people. Everything’s difficult.
It’s very expensive for us to make the chocolate. The cost of electricity in Grenada is outrageous. We have a lot of solar panels (about half our power is solar) but we also have to pay for a lot of electricity. So it’s very challenging. Our biggest challenge, at this point, unfortunately, is to figure out a way to make our bars more profitable. A higher price is probably going to be the only answer because we’re never going to be able to sell directly to a store and handle our own distribution from a remote tropical island.
What would you do if you weren’t making chocolate?
I don’t know but before this, I was kind of a squatter/activist and I may have stayed immersed in a community of activists in a big city. It was New York at the time but it turns out now, I really like living in London. And then in Grenada I was just living part of the year there, so I might still be doing that and grow food in my bamboo house. I figure I’ll do that again one day.
Mott, I hope your garden is flourishing. You will be missed.
Learn more about Mott: