This is the latest entry in a series called Who Owns That? We ask readers on our LinkedIn group to identify their favourite small businesses from across Canada, and we track down the owners so they can tell us their stories.
Introducing Michael Sacco, the founder of ChocoSol, a learning community/social enterprise that focuses on making the 'food of the gods' – commonly known as cacao – into fresh, whole food, stone ground chocolate on an artisanal scale.
1. Let's start with the basics. Can you briefly describe your business, including when it was founded, what it does, and where you operate?
ChocoSol is a learning community social enterprise. Our challenge is to balance the art of ecological and intercultural research and dialogue, with the making and selling of healthy delicious chocolate foods.
We were founded in 2004 in Ontario, but find our roots in Oaxaca, Mexico, where I was working on a solar concentrator project in partnership with Indigenous learning communities and civil society. Our first ton of cacao and coffee was roasted with pure sunlight – hence our name Choco-SOL. Our kitchen is located in Toronto and we sell directly to customers at a number of local farmers' markets and special events, and are also available at health food stores and food co-ops throughout Ontario.
2. What inspired you to be an entrepreneur and to branch out on your own with this idea?
First of all, I think of myself as an eco-preneur. It is as much about creating a seventh generation ecological vision for future children as it is about re-connecting to the soil cultures of yesterday, while balancing this with making a dignified living. The two factors of learning and earning must be held together holistically. What inspired me to branch out as a social enterprise was the need to be self-sufficient and not depend upon funding to live the life I love.
3. Who are your typical customers, and how do they find you?
Our typical customers are people who are seeking to put the good food back at the centre of their family table. Call it slow food, or whole food, or natural food, or slavery-free food, or vegan food; the people who appreciate the heart, soul, and good soil of ChocoSol trend towards combining ecology and enterprise into their budget, and the art of living.
4. What is your role in the business? Do you have any employees?
My role as founder is to set the strategic vision, and to lead by example. It is to support the team, cultivate the team, and to play to a larger context. Currently, we are an amazing team working on becoming a great organization. We have fewer than 10 people working here at the grassroots in Toronto and directly with producers, and civil society animators in Mexico, the U.S., and the Dominican Republic.
5. You've been identified by one of our readers as a standout business. What do you consider the key element of your success?
The key to our success is the merger of learning and earning, of great value, and a value proposition all wrapped up into a delicious bite of healthy, ethical chocolate or a sip of Mayan Chocolatl. Our mission is to live holistically, and at the same time create and share the most ethical, ecological, gourmet stone ground chocolate humanly possible, and to do so by truly respecting and learning from the food of the gods – Cacao!