For a small business, the power of the press can be a game-changer—but not without growing pains. Imagine you make gourmet confections by hand, and the one batch of caramel your kitchen can turn out at a time yields 225 pieces. Now imagine a favorable mention in the New York Times, and suddenly getting enough orders in one day that you’ll need to churn out about 180 batches of caramel, stat.
This happened to Hedonist Artisan Chocolates in 2013, and it could have imploded a lesser company, but Jennifer Posey and her crew rose to the challenge. They filled the orders and made some extras, to boot.
Chocolates were not Posey’s first calling. She started out as a parks and recreation director, and while the transition from that to opening and owning an artisanal chocolate shop may not seem like the most logical move, for Posey, that connection between the two came from the simple ideologies of community and spreading joy.
After earning a degree in Leisure Studies from San Jose State University, Posey moved to Milan, Michigan to become the resident Leslie Knope, taking a job as the city’s parks and recreation director. This experience would plant the seeds for her future career change. “When you work in parks and recreation, you’re basically running a whole bunch of little businesses,” Posey explains.
Though she found the job to be completely fulfilling, Posey’s time as Milan’s parks and recreation director was cut short when her partner received a too-good-to-pass-up job offer at Xerox in Rochester, New York. One there, Posey soon realized that taking a parks job there would feel like a step backward, professionally and personally. She spent the next year remodeling their home and working at a coffee shop as she planned her next career move. Through nightly conversations with her partner, an idea sparked: “We started talking about what it is I know about, other than parks and rec, and I love food. I love to go home and cook, and I wanna taste things, and I’m curious about what’s going on when someone’s cooking something.”
Posey then recalled what would turn out to be a telling decision she made back in graduate school. In order to devote more time and focus to her studies, she quit an early parks job in lieu of a “no-brainer job.” She ended up working for Richard Donnelly Chocolates. Donnelly was ranked in National Geographic’s Top 10 chocolatiers at the time.
“I was his minion, I was not a chocolatier or anything like that. I wrapped bars and I did the dishes. I was curious, though, asking, ‘What’s the deal with all this candy? And he’d be like, ‘We don’t have candy here. We have chocolates.” Soon after, Posey realized there was a whole world of chocolate—different beans, blends, ingredients—and it fascinated her.
After some persistent nagging, Donnelly somewhat rewarded her enthusiasm by giving her the task of making caramel. Since Donelly’s method of making caramel did not include liquid sugar as an ingredient, it required someone to stand over a boiling kettle and douse its sides with a wet pastry brush to make sure no sugar crystals formed. “That job sucks,” Posey emphasizes. “But I started really learning about chocolate.”
As her curiosity and knowledge grew, Posey would sneak into the kitchen at Richard Donnelly Chocolates and try her hand at different confections. “I remember talking to him and saying, ‘I’d like to own this place,’” she recalls.
In Rochester, Posey began looking into the local competition. “Rochester’s full of great candymakers, but there wasn’t an artisan chocolatier. That niche needed to be filled,” she says. She then rented a kitchen shared by an ice cream maker—the same kitchen used to create everything at Hedonist Artisan Chocolate now—for $50 a month. “But to me, that was all the money in the world. We had maxed out all our savings, we bought a house, I hadn’t worked for basically a year. So, I started the business with 300 bucks and a brand-new credit card,” she laughs.