Unhappy with her nine-to-five and searching for a new job, Kimberly Addison stumbled upon a career-changing idea while sitting in a Swiss chocolate factory in 2014. It was there that she learned that the cocoa in Swiss chocolate is sourced from Ghana, her native country.
Now, Addison is the co-owner of ’57 Chocolate, a Ghana-based chocolate company, which she runs alongside her sister, Priscilla.
The company’s name, which comes from the year of Ghana’s independence, aims to capture the spirit of Ghana’s Independence Day by manufacturing chocolate in small batches with resources from the country itself, according to its website.
“Having lived in Switzerland for years, I was constantly gifting chocolate to people wherever I traveled,” Addison, BC ’12, said. “So, if I was coming back to BC, I would bring people Swiss chocolate. If I was going to Ghana, I would bring Swiss chocolate, and then I realized that that was an issue. If the raw material is coming from Ghana, then I should be bringing Ghanaian chocolate to friends in Switzerland and my friends in the States.”
Addison and her family had already planned on moving back to Ghana, but the concept of ’57 Chocolate ensured she would have a potential livelihood.
With all of her plans falling into place, there was only one obstacle in her way: she did not know anything about making chocolate. Having lived in Switzerland for years, chocolate was a part of her daily routine, but she never thought about where it came from.
“The first thing we did was google how to make chocolate, like a chocolate-making course,” Addison said. “Because you know, we had done a lot of eating of chocolate, but it’s such a part of the everyday life [in Switzerland] that you don’t even really think [about where it comes from.]”
Addison and her sister found a chocolate-making course in the UK, and just two weeks after their move to Ghana, they repacked their suitcases and headed back to Europe.
“We went to the UK to take this how-to-work-with-chocolate class, which was very helpful to us, and it was a great intro,” Addison said.
After learning the basics in the UK, they returned to Ghana to source the cocoa for their chocolate.
“I remember just emailing a whole bunch of chocolate makers, and I was essentially asking them for an apprenticeship,” Addison said. “I got a lot of ‘No’s.’ I must have written over 50 emails, and out of those emails, I only got one positive response, but that was all I needed.”
Addison’s one ‘Yes’ was from Doble and Bignall, a UK-based company started by Simon Doble and Margie Bignall. The couple was thrilled with Addison’s idea and welcomed her into their chocolate-making world free of charge, so she packed her bags and once again headed back to the UK.
“I stayed with them for a month, and I basically was their apprentice,” Addison said. “They really taught me a lot. That was the key moment where I really learned the bean-to-bar process. They helped us tremendously in sharing and passing on their knowledge.”
In January of 2016, after years of courses, apprenticeships, sourcing, and learning about how to produce chocolate, Addison and her sister produced their first batch of chocolate under the label ’57 Chocolate.
“It was nice to be like ‘Okay, this is possible,’” Addison said. “Because even in the midst of all the support we got from family, from friends, from strangers who didn’t know us but believed in the idea, we also had a lot of people who were telling us that it wasn’t a good idea, and that it may not be possible. Can you really make chocolate on a small scale in small batches? So the fact that we did it was like, now we can prove to the naysayers that it actually is possible, because we’ve done it.”
Though manufacturing their first bar was a significant accomplishment, Addison’s sister Priscilla said that it also came with its flaws. Priscilla said they had not yet mastered all of the techniques necessary to produce the perfect bar of chocolate.
“When we started this business, we weren’t the best at it,” Priscilla said. “It’s definitely been a work in progress. And now we’ve gotten to a point where we’re really great at what we do. But initially, you know, Kim and I, we laugh about how we kind of owe a lot of our first customers, our dedicated customers, a couple of free bars of chocolate because the tempering wasn’t our best work.”
As a co-founder, Addison acts as a jack-of-all-trades, involving herself in every aspect of the ’57 Chocolate production.
“We’re constantly producing chocolate,” Addison said. “We’re roasting, we’re grinding the beans, we’re molding chocolate or packaging. So every day is a little bit different. Depending on the order, sometimes we’re doing chocolate tasting events.”
Unfortunately, three years into the ’57 Chocolate journey the COVID-19 pandemic halted its progress. After experiencing one of their best years yet in 2019, Addison and her sister were forced to send their workers home—while still paying them. They continued to sell chocolate but had to do all of the labor themselves.
“We had clients in the United States, surprisingly, who were still ordering, so I was in production, packing and shipping out every small order that was coming in,” Addison said. “And I’m grateful for that. I honestly don’t know what was making people buy chocolate at that time. Maybe it’s comfort food or something like that, but I was very grateful for even the small orders.”
The pandemic also gave Addison and her sister the opportunity to develop new products to fit people’s adapting needs, she said. With a rising trend in home baking, they developed a line of chocolate chips, which is still one of their most popular products. They also created at-home chocolate testing kits, where Addison and her sister would guide them through a chocolate-tasting course remotely.
“It was definitely hard, and I mean we’re still feeling, I think all businesses are still feeling the effects of COVID,” Addison said. “But I mean, gradually we’re seeing things get better.”
She also took PULSE, a community service—based course at BC, which she said was a foundational experience. As part of her PULSE course, Addison did service in Rockwell House, a home serving people with HIV and AIDS experiencing homelessness. Addison’s time at Rockwell House inspired a passion for social justice that she has brought with her to ’57 Chocolate, she said.
Addison also said she took a sign language course at BC, which helped her incorporate her passion for social justice into her business. Though Addison was unaware of it at the time, the skills she developed in her sign language course have now helped her hire and onboard deaf employees. She currently employs a deaf man who has even further developed her sign-language skills and taught other workers how to sign.
“PULSE really enabled me to look at things from A to Z [and taught me] how to incorporate social justice into whatever I’m doing in life,” Addison said. “I don’t see ’57 Chocolate as just a business, I see it as a social enterprise because it’s helping people who may not have easy access to jobs. One of our employees is deaf, and we have another employee who is now learning to read and write because she didn’t get a chance to go to school earlier on.”
Priscilla said her sister’s leadership style is one that promotes innovation, progress, and enjoyment. The two built their company on the basis of learning something new and creating a quality product, she said.
“She is constantly adding something new, and she reminds the team that you know, we should be learning and it should be an enjoyable process,” Priscilla said. “And I think one thing that we both brought into this business is that you know, our background isn’t in chocolate. And so if we can learn how to do it, our team can learn how to do it and anybody is teachable.”