Jessica Spaulding and Asha Dixon knew they wanted to do chocolate differently. They are the minds behind the Harlem Chocolate Factory, a company that honors the history of the storied New York City neighborhood with refined gourmet treats. The artisan company stands out because it conveys the culture of Harlem through its recipes and packaging.
It all began in 2015 when Spaulding and Dixon, Spelman College classmates and alums, won the New York StartUP! Business Plan competition. That win gave them $15,000 to launch Harlem Chocolate Factory. The pair knew they wanted to not only honor the neighborhood but use high-quality, fair-trade ingredients in the company’s distinct products.
They began to attract the attention of several high-profile companies, such as Kate Spade and Sam Adams, who included the chocolates in their corporate gift bags. But it wasn’t smooth sailing. As the business grew, Spaulding found some banks would not give her a loan to ease the growing pains. Despite the odds, the two opened their flagship retail location on Harlem’s Strivers’ Row in 2018.
“Pre-pandemic, the idea of having a business supported because it’s black-owned was unheard of, she said, “especially one steeped in African-American culture.”
She recalled some banks suggested that chocolates celebrating black culture had a “limited appeal.” Then, from February to April 2020, 40% of black-owned businesses across the U.S. closed, temporarily or for good. As the media began to focus on this and other social and economic issues, there was a new positive focus on businesses like Harlem Chocolate Factory. That, coupled with a nod from the 2020 Oprah’s Favorite Things List, made the future brighter.
Oprah’s choice highlighted the unique nature of the company’s product. The “Choc and Awe” collection is a six-pack of perfectly-sculpted, gold-dusted mini Strivers’ Row brownstones made of milk, dark, or white chocolate.
In fact, the bulk of the company’s products is these brownstone bars, which are essentially edible art. They also offer a popular truffle.
“The beauty of Harlem is its bittersweetness: projects and brownstones; caviar and quarter juices; opportunity and poverty,” Spaulding explained. “ The [neighborhood’s] impact throughout the world reverberates through African-American culture, and African-American culture has shifted the world.”
With a goal to bring diverse voices to the forefront of the chocolate industry, Harlem Chocolate Factory is showing that a creative — and delicious — idea can not only delight the taste buds but shine a light on a unique neighborhood, its culture, and its indelible history.“I hope that through our work that we continue to inspire people along the way, who may be thinking of unconventional feats, and show that you can do it if you put your mind to it,” said Dixon.