MARCH 2020 Editor’s Corner
“We have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon.“
– Franklin D. Roosevelt
Alright fellow chocolate lovers, here’s the deal. Yes, we live in a difficult reality right now that we all need to fight through together… to help each other out. Under the circumstances, I certainly can’t, in all sincerity, spend an entire Editor’s Corner column going rah-rah-rah, cheerleading all of us on.
That said, however, I’ll make you a deal.
Yes, I need to talk about the difficult road ahead in the short term for some of the chocolate world. I implore you to read on, stick with me, and come out the other side.
When you do, I promise to spend the latter part of this article pushing the positives and delivering that “you’re damn right we can” attitude you’re used to seeing in pretty much everything I’ve ever written and published over the past 27 years.
Deal? Good, let’s dive in, because yeah, the world’s flipped upside down right now, so let’s hit this thing head on.
The Blind Side
I must admit, I never expected to write the surreal Editor’s Corner I did last Fall, when the uprising in Chile threw a well-established part of the world for a loop, and caused a massive upheaval. Inequality in the world tends to be the seed that reaps these moments, and we caught a glimpse of it from our brothers and sisters in Santiago in late 2019, no doubt.
Considering I never expected to write an article like that here in Chocolate Connoisseur, imagine my surprise when lo and behold, here I am only half a a year later writing another, similar piece — except this time one that not only affects more of the world, but also hits home.
Part of the other work I do here at Chocolate Connoisseur’s parent company, Mightier Pen Marketing, involves e-commerce, including sourcing products from around the world. So for my part, I’ve been the following coronoavirus situation more closely than the average U.S. citizen. The truth is, however, that it still didn’t matter much – where we are right now took me by surprise anyway.
I won’t go into any details about the situation itself (social distancing, etc.), because by now you’ve read about it and talked about it plenty, I’m sure. What we do need to talk about, however, is how the COVID-19 Pandemic is, and likely will, affect the chocolate world. That’s what we’re stewards of here at Chocolate Connoisseur Magazine, and that’s where I feel compelled to shine a light.
David and Corey Menkes (photo by LetterPress Chocolate)
A Strange 24-Hour Coincidence
For our part, the direct effects of the virus situation are of course minimal, because we publish a digital magazine – you can get as close to us as you’d like and still practice social distancing (see, now there’s a little win right out the gate)!
We did, however, run into a snag with our monthly chocolate offer, because we’d penciled in a chocolate maker from Spain for our March-April offer. Although not quite at the same pandemic level as Italy, there was no way we could make that happen.
I had a return to LetterPress on my radar for the final offer of the spring here, before we hit our summer chocolate shipping hiatus, so… I reached out to my old friend David Menkes to see if he and Corey would be interested in joining forces again. I sent that email on March 16th.
Less than 24 hours later, I received an email from LetterPress — not a direct reply from David, however, as he’d already responded to me without mentioning any of what I’m about to share.
Instead, this new email was simply sent my way as an update for being a member of the LetterPress email list.
In case you haven’t seen it, here’s that email in its entirety. If you’re on the LetterPress Chocolate email list, and you most certainly should be, then you’ve probably already read this, and can certainly skip ahead if you’d prefer.
LetterPress Chocolate Email (March 17, 2020)
“We started this company with a couple pounds of beans and a mortar and pestle in our apartment in 2014. We moved into our current space in 2016 and opened the factory to the public in September of 2018. We found that in order to become profitable, we needed to supplement our wholesale orders by offering tours and tastings to the public.
It began slowly at first, sometimes only doing one or two tours a month, until two weeks ago when we were steadily offering them three days a week, on the hour. Our momentum was great, and we were just about to start hiring more people to help us out. We were about to announce a celebration of our 6th year in business at the end of the month.
Then the city of Los Angeles mandated that all restaurants and food establishments had to switch to a to-go policy, and we had to cancel all our tours for this month. The expected end date is March 31st but we’ve also heard it could be as late as July or August.
To be perfectly honest, we won’t survive as a company if we have to wait that long.
We need your help. We know that chocolate isn’t as necessary as toilet paper or hand sanitizer. Chocolate is something you treat yourself with. And we felt we were getting pretty good at it. In fact, we feel our best bars were released only in the last few months, and we were excited for all the new projects we had in the pipeline.
We don’t draw a salary from the sales at LetterPress Chocolate. Every bit of profit we’ve reinvested into the company to get more equipment, packaging, and hiring. We had one employee over the last year, many of you have met, Chris. He moved on to another opportunity a week before we shut down. So in that sense, it was good timing.
But we were really hoping to hire at least two more people in the next month or so. That obviously won’t be happening for the foreseeable future. So we’re back to doing all the work ourselves.
In order to survive this crisis, we need your help. That’s why we’re offering free online shipping anywhere in the US from here on. No codes required, just click over to our site and add the bars you like, and we take care of the shipping!
If you live in Los Angeles and want to swing by, you absolutely can, but keep in mind everything needs to be to-go, and we won’t be able to sample anything in the shop.
We will let you know when tours will resume, and keep you updated on how things are going for us.
So in advance, thank you for supporting us and other small businesses in these trying times. We don’t have massive reserves of money like the big companies. We wouldn’t be here without you!”
–David and Corey Menkes
My favorite chocolate bar… EVER.
The True Battle
I’ve known David since before he even started LetterPress, and it’s been amazing to see (and most importantly taste) the incredible work in chocolate that he and Corey have produced over the past six years. As far as I’m concerned, they’re one of several national treasures in chocolate that we simply cannot afford to lose.
As you’ve seen all throughout these pages over the years, those wonderful chocolate bars, truffles, and everything else chocolate that we enjoy so intently, impacts much, much more than our appetites. It affects farmers across the globe… it affects chocolate makers and chocolatiers… it affects families… it affects friends.
And in this case, of course it hits close to home. As I finished reading that email with a heavy heart, I knew exactly what needed to be done from our end, and in a moment I’m going to reveal those efforts.
First, however, I want to briefly revisit the reason all this craziness exists, because as much as we love chocolate (and many other things that are taking a hit right now), there are thousands and thousands of human lives at stake – we’ve already lost way too many across the globe to this insidious surprise.
Nothing should rise above those lives in importance.
When people talk about the economic climate we’re in and ask questions like “Is all this worth damaging the economy?”, let me un-complicate the answer to that question for all of us.
Yes. It’s worth it.
If you’re thinking that way right now, hit the pause button, hold everything for a moment, and swallow this one, simple truth.
WE ARE THE ECONOMY.
We’re not talking about some separate, magical entity. PEOPLE are the economy. Just like, when it comes to addressing the health of all citizens, WE are the government. Everything runs on the same fuel — all of us, as people.
There is no gray area. None of those other things exist without human lives. So please don’t try to blur the lines and pretend we shouldn’t sacrifice in the short term to save each other. It’s a ludicrous, insulting notion that has stressed me out more than anything, ever, over the last few weeks, as I’ve watched family and friends not take this situation seriously, because the bell had yet to toll for them.
I’m not having any of that, and neither should you.
Last of all, before I step down off the soapbox, this notion that older people should risk, and potentially sacrifice, their lives for younger people is disgusting. You don’t pay your dues for 60, 70, or even 80 years (my grandmother retired in her mid-80s) so that when you reach your own promised land, you die before your time. That’s not something as a people we should nonchalantly surrender, and I’ll always fight like hell to make sure that we don’t.
Now I say all this because, before we dive into what’s happening in the chocolate world, nothing is more important than protecting each other’s lives.
So obviously if you’re at a point in this crisis where you’re fighting for your own life, a loved one’s, or maybe you work on the front lines in a hospital, or somewhere in a key point on the essential supply chain, etc., I don’t want what we’re talking about here with helping chocolate businesses to ever sound like it’s somehow more important than the work you’re doing.
It’s not, and I guarantee you that all the great people who work in chocolate will 100% agree with me. There are so many bases to cover in a crisis like this, and as I talk about the one base that’s in our wheelhouse here at Chocolate Connoisseur, I just don’t ever want any of our readers to think I’m being insensitive or missing a bigger picture. That’s not how I roll.
Nothing is more important than protecting each other.
Time to Shine
Alright, you made it through all that and held up your side of the bargain, so now it’s time for me to come through on my end. Here’s the path we’re taking, and of course I hope you’ll join us. We’ve got some work to do, but I think when the smoke clears, we’re going to feel great and be stronger than before all this chaos began.
After I finished reading David and Corey’s email, I immediately knew it was time to put our regular promotional chocolate offers on hold. We created our online Chocolate Shop here at the magazine to bring you a limited time, unique chocolate offer each month, at an exceptional discount – especially if you’re an annual subscriber or a Premier member.
That means we partner with a chocolate maker, promote their chocolate, sell it for them, and share in the proceeds from each sale. Although we pay a very fair amount on the offers (especially since most of our “cut” goes to the huge discounts we offer), we still take a cut, it’s just part of everyday business here at Chocolate Connoisseur.
Unfortunately, everyday business doesn’t exist right now, and that means we need to change things up. So from this point until we feel we’re at a spot where it’s right to do so, we’re discontinuing our chocolate offers in their current form.
Instead, we’ll be partnering with a different chocolate maker (potentially multiple chocolate makers) each month, and then promoting their chocolate directly. In other words, instead of offering incredible discounts and the ability to order through us, we’ll be sending you straight through to the chocolate front lines, where you can support chocolate makers in need and make a bigger difference right now.
As you may have already guessed, we’re starting with LetterPress Chocolate, and that “offer” will go live late on April 1st. We expect to proceed like this for the April-May offer as well, and then we’ll re-evaluate.
Yes, we’re shining the light on LetterPress right now, but they’re certainly not alone. Many smaller chocolate makers have built their businesses on multiple pillars, which tend to include tastings, tours, and education — all things that certainly work best in person. Building relationships is such an important part of the craft chocolate world, and obviously, from an in-person standpoint, that aspect will take a severe hit in the short term.
We’ll do our best to help bridge that gap, and I hope you’ll join us in that fight.
One other note: although we’re changing up our monthly offers as detailed above, our Chocolate Connoisseur Premier members will still receive chocolate. In fact, LetterPress is sending out those packages on April 1st to each of our Premier members.
Chocolate Connoisseur Donations
In addition to promoting chocolate makers directly, our parent company’s design division, MPM Designs, will be launching a few new physical products, exclusively for sale at Chocolate Connoisseur Magazine. We’ll be donating a large portion of each sale to a chocolate maker, and we’ll have more details on that as soon as they’re available, very, very soon. Please pay attention to your email and/or our social media channels if you’d like to help out there.
Also, if you’re a chocolate maker yourself and need help, please send us an email and let us know your situation. We’ll contact you ASAP and determine the best way to help get the word out. I expect that we’ll have a separate area up soon on ChocolateConnoisseurMag.com with details on how to help different chocolate makers as this situation evolves.
The bottom line is this – we won’t give up, we will get through this, and it’s going to be one beautiful sunny day when we do come out the other side (see the sunrise photo above for what I’m thinking of as I write this).
Adversity has a way of helping you truly appreciate life, and I so deeply look forward to that day, in the hopefully not-to-distant future.
Stay strong everyone! We’ll get through this together!
Epilogue: But What About Chocolate Connoisseur?
We’re just a little digital magazine with a big heart, so for our part, we’ll simply be hanging in there. If you do want to help us out, the only thing we’ll be promoting ourselves is our Chocolate Connoisseur Ultimate subscription, which unlocks EVERYTHING we’ve ever published, and includes a one year subscription to the magazine as well, all for only $21.97.
It is pretty much the best thing ever for a chocolate lover stuck at home, so we’ll certainly advertising that more, since we think it will make a lot of people happy right now. If you’re not already an ultimate subscriber, feel free to join us there.