FROM THE COURT SCENE
TO THE COCOA BEAN
l have been a criminal defense lawyer for nearly 2O years. My father was a criminal defense lawyer before he died at a young age. l have loved the law since l can remember. As a hobby sometime around 1999, I started cooking and then baking. l made chocolate desserts and bought premium dark chocolate to cook with. Then I became obsessed with cupcakes, made them from scratch, researched recipes, and even traveled to Cupcake Mecca (Magnolia Bakery in NYC). For months l thought about opening a bakery dedicated to nothing but cupcakes. l was searching for some kind of food I could make, sell and have fun with.
In May 2OO5, I drove to the memorial service of an elderly relative. It was about an hour drive to the Grays Point Cemetery where my grandparents are buried, which is near their farm where I spent many weekends. During the drive I had time to pray about a business opportunity in Santa Fe, New Mexico (which is kind of like home away from home for us). On the way out of town I saw a bumper sticker that read “Santa Fe Car Rentals.” Also, close by the turn off to my grandparents farm was the sign “Santa Fe Cattle Company”. Oddly enough, I sensed that those “signs” were telling me to back away from the Santa Fe business. At the memorial service, and then on the drive home, it came to me to make chocolate from scratch. At that time, I had no idea how chocolate was made or where it originated. For all I knew chocolate bars grew on trees. But my passion to become a chocolate maker was born. l then went about what comes natural to me: making list upon list of questions and doing everything I can to find answers. Leaving no stone unturned is what made me a good lawyer and would now make me a good chocolate maker.
So when people ask me: “why chocolate?” l try to always qualify that by saying I believe God gave me an undeserved gift in this idea. I am also using this new adventure to be more involved in my family's life. l marvel at how they have endured my OCD. My 17 year old daughter, Lawren, has graciously responded with help when I have asked her at least lOO,OOO times "what do you think about. . ." l may let go of a rising career, money, notoriety, and apparent success and trading it for less money, much less security, and beginning at the bottom of the bean heap. Then I see all of the blessings that have come my way over the last two years and can't help but think that the good hand of God is upon this. We all know that our greatest strengths are often our greatest weaknesses and here is mine: l never give up. lt is not my goal to be voted the best chocolate maker in the world or that Askinosie Chocolate be loved by millions. My hope is that Caron and I together will make good chocolate that many people will greatly enjoy. BIOS
I think bios are funny because you know, and everybody knows, that almost all bios (except maybe POTUS) are written by the person the bio is about and written in third person. I will attempt to communicate my background in first person.
I am the founder of this career change, and I run our little company with the help of my wife (Caron) and Kyle Malone. I am also the Chocolate Maker so all complaints can come to me!
I graduated with a degree in political science (that science part has come in real handy with chocolate making) and applied to and was rejected by eleven law schools around the country. I moved to Texas to work in commercial real estate, met my future wife, and she convinced me to to re–take the LSAT.
I am pretty sure that I have the distinction of the lowest GPA and LSAT score in the history of the University of Missouri Law School (who finally took me the week before class started in the Fall of 1986). Proving that those entrance tests don't mean anything I graduated high in the class and went to work for a big law firm in Fort Worth, Texas. We moved back to Missouri where I started my own criminal defense practice. I cut my teeth on mid–level felonies where I tried to make a difference, promote social justice and fight my heart out for the little guy. Since then, I have had a number of complicated high profile cases that have garnered national media attention along with some death threats. Two of our cases have become Dateline NBC special reports where both clients were rightfully acquitted of murder charges. We have also had cases featured on Court TV, Prime Time Justice, Inside Edition, and most major newspapers in the nation, including the New York Times. I have been fortunate to receive many awards for my work (did I mention the death threats?). I guess I could go on about more lawyer stuff but why?
My greatest professional "reward" though came in 2OOO when I co–founded Lost & Found (lostandfoundozarks.com)–a regional grief center for children who have experienced the death of a loved one. I started this because my dad died of lung cancer when I was 14 years old and I wanted to do something so children would not turn out like me. I continue my involvement in that organization today.
When I realized I wanted to make chocolate from the bean I made a lot of chocolate at home by following the principles set forth atchocolatealchemy.com. Then I moved my "operation" to my law office kitchen because Caron said the kitchen at home was beginning to look like a war zone. I studied cocoa post harvest techniques in the Amazon Rain Forrest in October 2OO5 under the instruction of Jean–Luc Battini, a leading world cocoa agronomist, of the French research institute CIRAD. I was the only lawyer in the group (thank goodness). The course classes were in the Amazon near the Peruvian border in extremely remote conditions.
I have never considered myself someone who really thinks much about the environment–I am embarrassed to say–until this trip to the Amazon. At one point, in the middle of the jungle, I became overwhelmed with the realization that God created all this and it is so good. I have been forever changed by that experience.
I must admit the science of chocolate making has not come easy for me. Robert Steinberg, co–founder of Scharffen Berger, predicted that my science deficit would hurt me. He was not very impressed with my college science coursework: forestry; that is the only science class I took at the University of Missouri and it has served me well during the dark days of learning chocolate making. Yet, I seem to learn best by experiencing the process. Usually I learn complicated scientific topics by preparing a cross examination in the lawyer world but it really does not work in the chocolate world. However, I had the unique privilege of working at a gourmet chocolate factory in Guayaquil, Ecuador alongside a Master Chocolate Maker with a lifetime in the business. I spent time at the factory making chocolate, learning, watching, and listening. I have now traveled many times to South America to seek and develop relationships and to continue to be a life long learner of the chocolate process.
director of common Sense
Her title says it all–need I say more? When I met her she loved dark chocolate and I did not. However, over the years she taught me the way to enjoy the bittersweet. She was the one who convinced me to go to law school, then helped put me through while she worked as a school nurse. She can diagnose anything. Most of our friends call her before calling their doctor to see what she thinks. She lives with a hypochondriac (that would be me) so her medical background comes in handy. She has been through all of my jury trials sitting in the gallery, many times being the only friendly face in the crowd. More importantly, she has put up with months and months of me working late preparing for trial. She has endured the stress of media calling at home night after night and people wanting to do harm to me and our family. She even took a combat handgun tactical course (after I did) so she would know what to do if something terrible happened in our home. After all of this I come home and say, "Let's forget all of that and make chocolate!" She has always been so selfless and sacrificial for
Now to the common sense part: she is the ultimate trouble shooter who comes up with solutions where we all say "why didn't I think of that?".
Pursuer of the Passionates
My daughter Lawren has been working at the factory since the beginning, while she was attending college- doing everything from running our retail storefront to assisting me with marketing to writing basically everything that comes out of the factory- and now she is finally working with me full time as our Director Of Sales. She just graduated with degrees and Writing and Arts Administration, neither of which have anything to do with sales but she knows and loves our products. Lawren is a stress-wad like her father, but tries to live by the motto “When life hands you lemons, add vodka and stir.” [she added that in that not me–I do not condone drinking to combat stress]. Lawren is a very passionate person, so her job suits her well. She loves traveling, reading, fashion blogs, and dogs and describes herself as an autodidact [I had to Google this] now that she has graduated from college.
Working with Lawren is truly a dream come true for me and something I have thought about since she was little. We may fight sometimes, but in the end we make a fantastic team.
Kyle, my son–in–law, is one of the hardest working people I know and the first person I hired at our company. He will stay at something until it is done and done right. He understands how to fix things and why machines work the way they do. He understands the plumbing and electrical needs of our equipment and our process. He has worked around and with heavy equipment his entire life, which allows us to continually be making better chocolate for you. He is also a soon–to–be Ultimate Fighter and will represent Askinosie Chocolate as the "Ka–pow! Ka–kow" when we challenge other businesses on our street to a match to raise money for the homeless children of our neighborhood.
514 E.ComMercial St.
Built in 1894, our building has seen many faces. It has been a carriage factory, a cobbler and even a railroad supply store. Believe it or not, I have the actual abstract where the land was first deeded in 1843 (that THING IS COOL)
And the mural inside has not even been Re-touched in at least 100 years. It was the outside of our neighbor building before ours was built.
Take a tour of the factory and support Chocolate University.
EAT GOOD CHOCOLATE™
It tastes good
It’s good for the farmers
It’s good for the environment
It’s good for you
So we founded The Chocolate University with Drury University for the benefit of Boyd Elementary.
We charge for factory tours, but we put your money where our mouth is.
Our little factory is part of the revitalization of the Commercial Street Historic District, and as such we have a responsibility to participate in the lives of the children who live on this street and in our neighborhood. Children who live at the Missouri Hotel (Springfield’s largest homeless shelter), less than 1OO yards from our factory, attend Boyd Elementary School just a few blocks from our factory. Drury University is a stones throw away from both. 100 percent of the money you pay for the tour funds a cocoa education program we have founded in partnership with Drury University and Boyd Elementary.
The goals of The Chocolate University as presented and funded by Askinosie Chocolate are to promote the understanding of:
1.The art, science, and fun of artisan chocolate making
2.The history, culture and language of the cocoa producing countries
3.Profit sharing with farmers in direct relationships giving them a “Stake in the OutcomeTM”
4. Sustainable practices that help the planet in general and cocoa in particular
To schedule a tour, click here.
The cost is $3 per adult, $2 per child or student (no children under 5 please).
At this time we only offer tours on Tuesdays at 3:OO p.m. Please check in 1O minutes prior to tour. Doors are closed once tour begins. We understand that our tour times are limited, so if you are not available for a tour, please come visit us at your convenience. Our entire factory is almost completely visible from just inside the front door. Askinosie Chocolate's open design is a reflection of our business philosophy. Feel free to take all of the pictures you like.