The desire for inspiring work drew longtime criminal defense lawyer Shawn Askinosie to chocolate making in 2005.
He had a vision for what would become Askinosie Chocolate LLC, a bean-to-bar chocolate company based on Commercial Street, while visiting cocoa bean farmers in the Amazon. The business was born from what he called a “desperate” state of mind.
“Dear God, please give me something else to do,” he said he prayed for five years.
Askinosie started his quest for a new passion by picking up hobbies, which included baking with chocolate. That’s when inspiration struck.
Bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturing wasn’t popular then like it is today, he said. There were only a handful of people in the country in the industry. He said the craft can never fully be mastered, and that challenge was part of the allure.
In the 11 years since the first Askinosie Chocolate bar was made, the company has grown to $2 million in annual sales online and in 800 specialty stores. This month, it won two International Chocolate Awards, and in the summer was named one of Forbes’ best “bean-to-bar chocolate makers to know.”
But the real metrics Askinosie uses to measure success are within the culture of the organization.
“What I want for the company is what we call deep, not wide, impact,” he said. “That means I don’t want to add 20 more employees; I want to do better for the employees we do have. … We are deeply involved in the lives of the farmers and our goal is to continue that and to deepen those relationships.”
On average, Askinosie says he pays the cocoa farmers he works with almost 50 percent more than they would traditionally receive without a direct buyer.
He said his goal was to buy cocoa beans from farmers directly, share company profits with the farmers and give back to the villages where he sources cocoa beans, as well as engaging students in Springfield.
“At a soul level, I feel really good about the track that the company is on,” he said. “I never really went about a plan that was, ‘I’m going to have a company trying to do good work, and I’m going to have a company that makes a good chocolate bar.’ They always have been wrapped in each other.”
Askinosie said his company doesn’t pay for marketing its chocolate bars beyond a website and social media. He attributes the company’s growth to something intangible.
“I believe it is the grace of God,” he said. “It’s just good fortune that this has been our path, that God has granted us this little way that we’ve had to hopefully touch some people, employ some people and make a good product.”
He said he hopes to be at the helm of Askinosie for a long time but doesn’t stake his identity on the business.
“I want to travel lightly through this path of entrepreneurship that I’m on right now. It could end at any time,” he said.
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