Interview with a Vendor: Meira from Chocotenango

1. How would you introduce yourself?

We are a small ‘mom and pop’ bean to bar chocolate business with a genuine passion for food and flavors. ‘Pop’ Ismael is a professional chef who developed a passion for chocolate while living in Guatemala, where his wife (the mom in this scenario) was working in public health. Twenty years later Chocotenango has become a way of life for them both.

2. What is the back-story behind your business?

Chocotenango was born in Antigua, Guatemala, when Co-owner and Chocolatier Ismael Neggaz moved to Guatemala with his wife, who took up a job in public health there. A professionally trained chef, Ismael noticed that while Guatemala produced cacao, there was little in the way of gourmet chocolate. Chocotenango – the place of chocolate (derived from the local Mayan languages) – was born!

3. How has building community helped your business? Do you have a specific example?

The community’s built around farmer’s markets have helped Chocotenango enormously. Customers build over time, coming to experience the farmer’s markets, its vendors and customers alike. They don’t just come for the food, they come for the community. And we, and our fellow vendors are an important part of that community. Our customers come for the chocolate, but also for conversation and company. During COVID, our customers cared. They continued to buy our chocolate even through all the uncertainty, they kept us company during a really challenging period, and they ensured Chocotenango lived to ‘tell the tale’.

4. Explain how owning a business has changed your life.

Ismael, Chocotenango’s Co-owner, was born to open Chocotenango. His passion for food and flavors is perfectly channeled into chocolate making. Owning a business has allowed him to be exactly who he is – a fiercely independent hard worker with a deep sense of responsibility and excellence, who values flexibility in his life. Being a small business owner allows him to be all of those things. While he may not be accountable to a boss, he is accountable to his customers, just how he likes it.

5. What is your relationship to the Co-op? Why did you want to be a vendor here?

Our values at Chocotenango align with the values of the Co-op. We work with small family owned organic farms to source our cacao. We value healthy food, being good stewards of the planet, and our community. The Co-op is a natural fit for Chocotenango!

6. What is your favorite product, out of all the products you sell?

That is like asking a parent to choose their favorite child, an impossible task. If you ask Meira (co-owner), she will say the nutmet, sea salt and chili bar. If you ask Ismael, he would say the 73% single origin from the Dominican Republic, not only because it is delicious, but because it was the first bean to bar chocoalte bar that he made and it went on to win at least two international chocolate awards.

7. What would you like to see change in your local food system?

We all know that fresh food, local food and food that is packaged in containers that don’t destroy the planet are better. So, let’s aim for that! And these things should be accessible to all people, regardless of where they live, or their income. We should all have the opportunity to eat healthy and keep the planet healthy.

8. What’s one message you would like to impart to the people reading this?

We make our chocolate creations with love – love for our customers, love of food, and love for our planet. We hope you enjoy them!