Happiness Series Q&A with Grace Lissauer
Recently my friend Grace Lissauer, founder of The Chocolate Nation, sent me a box of Chokola’j truffles, and it was so good and her story for creating this business was so inspiring that I wanted to share her story with you. And, to quote Grace, “a little piece of chocolate is happiness.” With The Chocolate Nation you’ll find the highest quality chocolate. It’s all fresh with natural ingredients and it is all made in the United Sates. This is not something I had ever really thought was important about chocolate. But the freshness makes a huge difference. “The less ingredients, ordinarily the better the chocolate is,” Grace says. “Many of our chocolates are dated, that way the customer really knows it does matter. There’s something to be said for a little piece of chocolate a day. For me, it’s really about the taste, the natural ingredients and the traditions in making chocolate.”
Q: Why did you create The Chocolate Nation?
A: My mom became ill in 2007, and I wanted to spend more time with my family. I was working in apparel at the time and realized I needed work that was a bit more flexible. I started doing vision boards which were a big part of the evolution of “what’s next”. In the beginning my boards had all these beautiful images of relaxing settings. Then I began doing a series of boards that had beautiful bottles of wine, cheese, linens and chocolate. One board was of barns and natural settings, fields and farms. I wasn’t going to go into farming but I liked the idea of supporting local farming and American made products. I have been talking about doing something like this for 10 years. There was always chocolate in my life. We grew up having a piece of chocolate each night after dinner, and my family considers it a little part of our heritage. As I researched, I found there were not a lot of businesses focusing on great American chocolate, handmade, in small batches… so I saw an opportunity.
Q: What inspired you to work with chocolate?
A: I love chocolate. It’s the joy of the hunt. I love finding these amazing chocolatiers. Chocolate is such a small thing, and it makes people so happy. I bring people chocolate, and the response is a very big smile. I love the history of chocolate – to talk with people and tell them where it is grown, about the farming, the history and how it evolved. And I get to learn what people enjoy about specific chocolate.
I also felt there was a trend to artisan foods. We were seeing this with wine and cheese, craft beer – and I felt it was chocolate’s time!
Q: Your chocolates are all made in American, right?
A: We wanted to promote and celebrate artisan chocolate made in the US, to actually highlight that there is great chocolate made in America. So often people talk to us about chocolate made in Europe , which is wonderful, but we felt if we looked close to home, we could find that same quality and freshness here in the States. What all our partners share in common is the use of the freshest and finest ingredients, and in many cases working with local farms, supporting community, and bringing local flavor to their creations. You can smell it and taste the difference in the flavor, the mouthfeel.. and since there are no preservatives you are getting a pure piece of chocolate, always a bit healthier!
Q: So how did the company evolve from vision boards to what it is now?
A: The vision boards were a first step. As I researched it snowballed into what I wanted to do… how do I know this is the final business.. it is still evolving. It wasn’t like I just knew, but I love retail and the excitement of the business and the opportunities.
Q: What about your vision boards?
A: They helped me realize what would be next for me at the time.
Q: How did you move from working in fashion to working in chocolate and online?
A: Well, I loved what I did in fashion, and I do miss it. But working with the chocolatiers and leaning e-commerce, doing events and pairings, it has been very exciting. And it is still very much retail. While I am not working with designers, I am working with very creative chocolate artisans. E-commerce, I was a bit familiar with and had some exposure – so I knew some of the basics to ask… but I had a big learning curve on the back end part of the business!
Q: What have you learned while creating this company?
A: You have to hold on to the positive. You need to stay focused. My career coach helped me define the business and to listen to my instincts. A few people would tell me it would never work, but for the most part, people were supportive and excited for me. You really have to believe in yourself.
Q: And what about now? What have you learned now?
A: You have to constantly evaluate where you are and where you are heading(long and short term goals). Things are moving so quickly in technology and social media. And you really have to decide what works for your business. You have to be open and listen to what is happening on all fronts. There are some days where I can’t believe I’m here, but I am here. And I am excited about what the business is and what it can be. I can’t believe how far the business has come, but there is so much more to do.
Q: Why would you start a new company in the middle of recession?
A: I was probably a little on the naive side. I thought why not? I saw an opportunity and something I was/am passionate about – fresh, American chocolate.
Q: What is your favorite thing about your work?
A: It’s building the business and introducing great chocolatiers. I love building the business, thinking about what’s going to make it better for the client and how do we get people to learn about chocolate made in the US, with natural ingredients. And of course, I love continuing the search for new chocolate and chocolatiers to introduce to our clients! (We also love the taste testing!)
Q: What’s the best advice you’ve been given about work and starting your own company?
A: Keep an open mind. To listen, objectively. You have to really be open to help yourself to move forward. It’s amazing what people will share with you and you have to be open to get it.
Q: What in your day makes you happiest?
A: When I do events and tastings, that’s pretty fun. I love the response when people taste the chocolate and when they want to learn about the chocolate and the artisans who created it. I am really happy when I am meeting people.
A: It depends on the day, the time. I could never say my favorite. I think about who I’m with, the weather, the place – that’s what makes it memorable to me.
Q: What makes you feel good?
A: Eating chocolate. Having a good long walk. Hanging out with my friends and family. Being creative.
Q: What’s your happiest moment in a relationship, romantic and otherwise?
A: I love when you reach that moment of comfort with a person. And you can just sit there in silence. Those moments when it’s quiet… perhaps it is a quiet understanding.
Q: What are you plans for the future?
A: I have very big plans for The Chocolate Nation. I’d like to open stores… we have a few other divisions we are working on… so I’d love to get those rolled out soon!
Q: Why is chocolate important?
A: For me, chocolate is a little thing but it really makes people very happy, quickly. (Of course there are some health benefits too!)
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About the Author: Tania Van Pelt is the creator of Happiness Series. She is a writer and content creator, working in film, tv, and online. She wrote the popular lifestyle book "Ageless Diet," published in late 2015. And she is currently working on her next book. She also developed a sitcom pilot set in the restaurant business called "Employees Only TV" and is developing another web series comedy about Denver.