The Female Business of Chocolate

Almost nine months ago, my husband and I were blessed with a healthy, beautiful and strong baby girl. She was full of personality from the start, and her spunk and resolve have grown as quickly as she has. Although International Women’s Day 2017 was over a year ago, it seems like just yesterday afternoon that I sat at the table in our new home in Rochester, thinking about the baby on the way. What kind of world did I want to create for our little one? Drinking hot chocolate on our side porch, I contemplated the relationship between women and chocolate, and the impact my gender has had on the delicious foodstuff – and through chocolate, how we have impacted the world we know today.

Life has changed since our August 2016 move to Rochester. The day before Election Day 2016, my husband Andy and I visited Susan B. Anthony’s gravesite. Two days later, as election results were being confirmed, counted and recounted, my instinct told me I was pregnant; a pregnancy test (or two) confirmed it on my birthday. I had no idea how our country would look as the political transition occurred. I had no idea what our life would look like as we adjusted to life as a family of three.

Our daughter Alex was born in mid-July. Two weeks later, we bought a house in Rochester’s North Winton Village. After months of unpacking and cleaning and getting the house in order, I am now cozy in my living room writing this blog post. One of our cats is nestled against my leg, and my husband is sitting on the other side of me, leafing through papers, determined to do our taxes this year. Alex is sleeping in the room next to me. Laughing Gull Chocolates is now a brick and mortar store and I’m working towards saving the world with chocolate in new ways.

Life is certainly different. The days are filled with more beauty and wonder than I thought possible; days are also hectic and stressful. My beautiful baby, sleeping soundly to the hum of her air purifier in the next room, strengthens my resolve to improve the world in any way I can.

As loudly as I heard the call to save the world through chocolate before Alex was born, I feel it even stronger now. As an individual, chocolate is how I found my voice. As the owner of a small chocolate shop, chocolate is how I make my voice heard in the community. Making the world a better place through chocolate feels more relevant and urgent than ever, and through Laughing Gull Chocolates, I have the venue to do so.

Business women like me are in the minority. Just over half the population is female, yet, according to the Center for American Progress, a mere 14.6% make up executive officers and the Small Business Association reports that only 36% of America’s business are women-owned.

The good news is that number is growing. According to Grasshopper.com, women own 11.3 million businesses and employ 9 million people. While business in the country has grown only 9% since 2007, the number of women-owned companies has increased by 45%. And they’re growing, too: women-owned businesses are hiring more people and increasing revenues.

All this growth has occurred in spite of the challenges that female entrepreneurs face – nevermind family obligations like those that I’m learning to balance with a new baby. Grasshopper.com explains that women face a lack of funding, with only 2-6% of women receiving venture capital; women rarely receive the mentorship that is beneficial to successful businesses. Women also suffer from “imposter syndrome” more than men, thus creating greater obstacles to success. This imposter syndrome is real. I’m in a constant battle with myself, questioning my abilities and what I’m doing everyday.

These challenges result in women owned businesses making only 25 cents on the dollar that our male counterparts earn. The gap in retail business – a large portion of Laughing Gull Chocolates’ domain – is even wider: women owned businesses earn only 15 cents for every dollar our male counterparts make. This website and this article are great sources for more information on this.

Together, women like me who own “restaurant[s] or other eating places, earn $49.6 billion in sales annually, employing 996,000 people and contributing $13.9 billion toward the economy in payroll.” These numbers are important, but there is more to the story. My hope is that the impact of a business like Laughing Gull Chocolates goes further than just numbers. Laughing Gull Chocolates is about the stories behind the chocolate.

I spend most of my time at Laughing Gull Chocolates with my daughter. And friends and their little ones, but more on that in the next blog. Making chocolate – and sharing the story of chocolate – has helped me find my voice. My hope is that by sharing this journey with my daughter, I’ll encourage her to always know and be proud of her voice as well.

I’m not the only one who has found my voice through chocolate. Over the course of history, chocolate has allowed many women to find and use their voice, in a similar way it has helped me to find and use mine.

So, why did I choose to (start to) write a blog post on this topic on International Women’s Day? (I know, it’s a little late…but I figured it’s relevant and important all year long). Not only are women inextricably linked to chocolate and its story, but chocolate has been instrumental in strengthening women’s voices.

At times, in fact, women’s voices became so strong that women, including nuns, were prohibited from consuming chocolate. It was seen as improper for “civilized” women to consume chocolate; chocolate was too stimulating. Anyone who has seen the movie Chocolat remembers the chocolate ban, stronger during Lent. Similarly, chocolate was banned at times during the Colonial period in MesoAmerica. Although men – the nobility and warriors – consumed chocolate, it was women who prepared it. Even during the pre-Columbian period, it was the woman’s role to pour chocolate from a bowl held high, into another bowl below it, creating a frothy, spicy drink for Montezuma and his men.

As Europeans popularized chocolate, what was originally a sacred foodstuff for elite men, became a luxury good for men. It soon evolved into an indulgence, perceptibly incompatible with masculinity. Chocolate, therefore evolved into a more feminine foodstuff and marketed to women. Men still consumed it, but mostly as an aphrodisiac. According to Mort Rosenblum, the author of Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light, “the men drank coffee and stronger stuff, and the women drank chocolate.”

I’ve written previously about the historical role of women in chocolate, specifically in the Americas. There are countless stories of seduction and sorcery with chocolate, all of which are fascinating and worth reading. The consistent theme of these stories is that chocolate gave these women a voice, a way to make a difference in their world. These stories of women using chocolate reminds me that women from pre-Columbian times to contemporary times can find strength anywhere – even (especially?) in chocolate.

With chocolate as my muse, I have started a small business, and I am now one of the 36% of women-owned businesses. I am proud to be a female business owner, and all that it represents; and I am proud to be making even a small difference in the world, using chocolate as the vehicle for change, and, hopefully, making the world a better place for my nine-month old daughter, whose spunk already shines though. I am proud of my daughter. Even in her silliest moments she demonstrates a tenacity and spirit that give me confidence that she will do OK in this world. And I am proud to raise a daughter, whose tenacity and spirit give me faith and confidence in our next generation.

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