I’m home! After two months on the road researching the US chocolate experience. After 10,200 miles, one cracked windshield, one stubbed finger, countless hotel rooms and lots of grab-and-go meals. Many of you have asked how I did it. The answer — passion for my subject. And a few kind souls who offered a warm bed, a home cooked meal, cherished memories over a glass of Merlot. These encounters were few and far between on my road trip around the United States. When it happened, it was like being welcomed into an oasis. Let me introduce you to the people who sustained me along my way.
Las Vegas, Nevada
How could I leave my home in Las Vegas for two months, manage my mail and bills, keep the sprinkler system working and my plants alive in 105 degree temps and make sure no one was “visiting” my house on the sly? One word – FRIENDS!
My long-time friends and newly transplanted Las Vegas residents Sharon and Barry Drucker (and their dog Rosie) gave me peace of mind while I was on the road. Sharon did double duty by bringing her sense of style to help me select a few sweet interview outfits, right down to shoes and scarves.
I always enjoy hosting my niece Brianna Goldberg when she comes to my neck of the woods to play in the Las Vegas Symphony, so it was fun to stay at her Pasadena home for a couple of days while I attended the Los Angeles Chocolate Salon this past September 2015. And, when I realized I wouldn’t have time to research media or send out media releases for my destinations, Brianna was the first person I thought of to do the job. And do it she did! Thanks to her diligent work, Red, White & Chocolate made our first TV appearance in Deadwood, South Dakota while visiting Chubby Chipmunk Chocolates.
San Francisco, CA
As I made my way to northern California to dip into more rich chocolate experiences in the Golden State, Allison and Roger Pharr (and cats) welcomed me into their quintessential San Francisco Victorian home. These members of the Bay Area techie explosion navigate their very cool urban landscape using apps for Uber, food delivery, breaking news, rapid transit, etc. They seem to have an app for any question I happen to pose. They’ve hosted me often and have come to expect chocolate! I didn’t disappoint. They gave insightful feedback which I’ll share in my upcoming piece on consumer reaction to today’s chocolate landscape.
I even snagged a much coveted parking space right in front of their home. I almost extended my stay just to enjoy the excitement of being able to park close by on the street.
And I never miss an opportunity to visit with my son, San Francisco drummer and teacher Aaron Kierbel, who apparently enjoys accompanying me to the chocolate haunts I’ve discovered in his own back yard .
How does an AirBnB rental fit in this post? After all, I did pay for the space and I didn’t know the host. Two words – Tracey Liu. I needed a place to stay while attending the Chocolate Makers Un-Conference and the NW Chocolate Festival this past October 2015 and Seattle is expensive! So I ventured out and signed on to stay at Tracey’s AirBnB apartment while she stayed with her friend. Tracey was so welcoming and went the extra mile when the internet decided not to work. She knew that was critical for my project, so she spent hours on the phone and with the internet service at the apartment and made it happen. I felt so taken care of and valued. Thanks, Tracey!
I’ve already posted about my new friend and craft chocolate maker Jennifer Wicks of Burnt Fork Bend Chocolate Company but I want to thank Jennifer and her family for their graciousness while I visited them in Montana. Jennifer reached out to me via Facebook when she heard about Red, White & Chocolate. “Come see my operation in Montana,” she said. Cool. I was curious about a woman craft chocolate maker since that seems not to be the norm.
Then I met her at the Un-Conference in Seattle and she invited me to spend the night with her and her family while visiting for the interview. I observed a lifestyle different from anything I’ve ever experienced and it was about that time that I started to realize what a life-changing two months this would be for me due to the people I would meet along the journey. Thanks, Jennifer, Don and Zach for an amazing visit.
I couldn’t wait to get to Cleveland and spend a few restful days with my cousin and his wife, Barb and Larry Colin. They live in a rural section of Cleveland right outside of Chagrin Falls with woods as their backyard and a steady stream of birds dipping into their luxurious bird feeders.
These experienced birders helped this novice, with binoculars and bird ID book in hand, identify:
White-Breasted Nuthatch, Blue Jay, American Goldfinch, Mourning Dove, Winter Wren, Tufted Titmouse, Hairy Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker and Red Bellied Woodpecker. All within 48 hours!
In addition to having some great chocolate experiences in and around Pittsburgh, I got to visit my hometown and many good, long-time friends I haven’t seen in a while. Thanks, Rosemary, for hosting me this time. And, thanks for a lovely stop-over, Pittsburgh. You know I’ll be back.
Camp Hill, PA
Curtis Vreeland, his wife Lynn, two dogs and a cat welcomed me into their historic Pennsylvania farmhouse outside of Harrisburg. Curtis is FCIA’s go-to guy for analysis of the chocolate market (Vreeland & Associates). But staying in their sprawling home with barns, a corn house, other structures and rolling acreage allowed me the opportunity to see other sides to him. His love of historical architecture, his green thumb, the beautifully loving relationship with wife Lynn (who positioned him just so for each photo) and his deep, deep fascination with the history of chocolate in the United States and how the the armed services put chocolate on the map for so many Americans. He’s written a book about it that just has to be published! Here’s a little tidbit – Lynn, a hairstylist, saved me from a very bad hair month! She made time for me in her salon and sent me on my way feeling so much better.
Thank you, Curtis and Lynn, for a peek inside your fascinating life.
Manchester, New Hampshire
I first learned about Richard Tango-Lowy and Dancing Lion Chocolate when I began to flirt with the idea of becoming a chocolatier. My daughter Sahara searched the Internet and sent me a link with a message, “Mom, take a look at what this chocolatier is doing. Really intriguing.” Of course, that was Rich and his artful Dancing Lion Chocolate.
Then, when I signed on to manage the Fine Chocolate Industry Association about a year and a half ago, I felt like a groupie when I discovered that Rich was on the Board. Since then, my admiration and respect for what Rich and his team do has only grown.
So, you can imagine my excitement when Rich not only agreed to an interview, but invited me in to watch him work AND offered me the opportunity to stay overnight in the apartment right above the shop. But the icing on the cake was meeting Rich’s wife, mother and father and having a lovely dinner out with the family. I’m still kvelling (sometimes Yiddish is the only way to express delight!).
I was running out of time and had to cut out the entire southern states from my itinerary to get home by Thanksgiving, but I had to take a few days to visit my good friend Susan Niles and her husband Joel. Sue and I go way, way back. I saw her at their wedding about four years ago. Then she visited me to bring her interior decorating talents to my new home in Las Vegas about three years ago. That’s a long time for friends not to see each other. There was no way I was going to miss stopping in Denver. So glad I did. Their home is lovely and comfortable with Susan’s touches everywhere. We had so much to share. Her blossoming marriage, three growing grandchildren a few miles away, the joys and travails of gaining a long view on life. And I had stories from two months on the road, chocolate makers and chocolatiers that inspired. We even made time to tour the Hammond’s Chocolate factory, more candy than chocolate, but what the heck.
Red, White & Chocolate thanks you all!
Of course, my children Sahara and Aaron, my sister Barb, nephew David, niece Brianna and countless friends – thank you for not suggesting that I might be crazy doing this road trip. Your lack of weird looks allowed me to think I just might be able to pull off this trip. And I did!!!! So glad to be back home. Now, I’m ready to start digging into 90+ interview recordings and start sharing the stories of the people, companies and dynamics shaping the US chocolate experience.