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2011 12 People You Need to Know: Shawn Askinosie

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Once upon a time, Shawn Askinosie was a highly regarded trial lawyer, fulfilling a long-desired role.

It wasn’t easy, though. He was rejected by 11 law schools before his wife finally nudged him to try again.

Askinosie was accepted that time, and he built a successful law practice after graduating from the University of Missouri School of Law. His first murder trial was broadcast on Court TV, and two others were featured on NBC’s “Dateline.” In 2001, Missouri Lawyers Weekly named him one of the Missouri Lawyers of the Year.

Askinosie, who was a teen when his father died, also co-founded Lost & Found, a grief center for children, in 2000.

But something was missing, and he needed to try something new.

“I didn’t want to be one of those people who sat on the front porch of the (nursing home) with what little brain power that I did have and regret my life,” Askinosie says.

For him, the answer came in the form of chocolate.

“There’s a lot of things appealing about chocolate, but one of the great things about it is, there is no end to the learning of chocolate. I will never master chocolate, ever,” Askinosie says.

Askinosie decided to make chocolate from scratch, buying his cacao beans directly from farmers in Ecuador, Tanzania and the Philippines. His work includes traveling to the exotic locales where the beans are grown. He pays more than fair trade prices and shares Askinosie Chocolate’s profits with the farmers.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Askinosie says.

He opened Askinosie Chocolate at 514 E. Commercial St. and sold his first chocolate bar in 2007.

In the years since, he’s learned not only about chocolate but also about imports, exports, fair trade, distribution and the ins and outs of running a business with international ties.

Through the Chocolate University, a collaborative program with Drury University, Askinosie and his company work with area schoolchildren to teach them about entrepreneurship and the world at large. The program, according to www.askinosie.com, is funded by factory tour proceeds.
Askinosie Chocolate, which sold 16 metric tons of finished chocolate in 2009, operates debt-free and has stayed steady despite the economic climate.

In 2009 and 2010, the National Association of Specialty Food honored the company with a silver medal in the Outstanding Chocolate category.

The company’s product lineup includes dark chocolate, white chocolate, sipping chocolate and hazelnut spread, just to name a few – and Askinosie’s far from finished.

“I feel like we’ve taken off the runway, we’re clearing the tree line, but we’re not at altitude yet. We’re still climbing,” he says.

Askinosie says, too, that he hasn’t left his law days behind completely.

“I keep my license active, but I don’t actively practice unless people owe us money,” he says with a laugh. “Then I dust it off.”

For more information on the 12 People You Need to Know series, click here.
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