There is no denying the fact that Americans have a love affair with chocolate. What’s not to love? It’s sweet, it’s smooth and it melts in your mouth. Chocolate is the ultimate comfort food. Most of us never think about the arduous process required to prepare it for consumption, but Eric and Crisoire Reid, the dynamic couple behind the premium chocolate brand SPAGnVOLA (pronounced spang-vola), have built their life and legacy on it.
Eric, originally from Panama, and Crisoire share a mutual love of agriculture. “When my wife introduced me to her family in the Dominican Republic, that was the first time in my life that I ever saw a cacao tree,” he recalls. “I remember turning to her and asking what kind of tree it was. She said, ‘That’s cacao – the fruit that makes chocolate.’” Neither of them could have known at the time that the fateful exchange would be the first of many that would ultimately lead them to this passion project.
Early in their marriage, the couple decided to invest in a 450-acre farm in Hato Del Rey, in the eastern part of the Dominican Republic where they raise and grow everything from livestock and tropical fruit to cacao beans. They traveled back and forth between the Caribbean island and their residence in Maryland where Eric was working as a successful information technologist, while Crisoire raised their two daughters and managed the family business from home.
During a business trip to New York to negotiate the sale of their cacao beans to U.S. manufacturers, they quickly found that the culture and profit divide between boutique owners and cacao growers was extraordinary. It was at that moment that they hatched the idea of getting into the business of making chocolate for themselves. “I said to my wife and kids, ‘We are not going to sell our beans anymore, we’re going to make the world’s best chocolate,’” says Eric. With his strong business acumen and Crisoire’s commitment to the mastery of chocolate making, their enterprise was born.
When it came time to name their product, Eric and Crisoire chose SPAGnVOLA, a name derived from a 16th-century voyage map of the island of Hispaniola (present day Dominican Republic and Haiti), as an homage to their Afro-Latino heritage. As head chocolatier and co-founder of the family venture, Crisoire, who completed her certification at the Barry Callebaut Chocolate Academy, is the mastermind behind the signature SPAGnVOLA single-estate chocolate bars and uniquely blended truffles and bonbons.
For a behind the scenes look Crisoire in action as well as the chocolate making process, view this amazing video, SPAGnVola Chocolatier Documentary Part 1.
The couple owns every detail of the chocolate making process, from growing and cultivating the cacao beans at Hacienda de SPAGnVOLA, to roasting and producing chocolate from their Gaithersburg, Md. artisan factory. What sets SPAGnVOLA apart as an exquisite premium brand is the passion and meticulous precision dedicated to every detail of the process. “Every single cacao bean has between 40 to 60 percent natural cacao butter and this is where we really start to differentiate ourselves from mass producers,” Eric says. “Most mass producers will extract the butter from the bean, essentially taking the life out of the chocolate. Then they sell the cacao butter to the pharmaceutical industry leaving behind what is called a cacao cake,” he explains. “Here when the liquor comes out, we do not extract the cacao butter at all. We leave it exactly intact just like Mother Nature intended.”
In addition to serving an organically grown product in its purest form, Eric is also committed to maintaining his brand of single-estate chocolate. “The chocolate we grew up eating is very complex because it is made up of cacao beans from around the world but when you eat chocolate from a single source – meaning from just one country, it has a very unique taste. Take that a step further and when you eat chocolate from one single estate, it has an extremely unique flavor,” he says. Not content to stop there, Eric is currently working on perfecting a single genotype chocolate. “The science community has looked at cacao as just cacao, but in order to make the world’s best chocolate you have to understand the potential of every tree,” he says. “When you eat chocolate from a single tree, it is like nothing you’ve ever experienced.” It is this kind of relentless commitment to quality that garnered the single-estate chocolatier three highly coveted awards from the Academy of Chocolate in London.
With this standard of excellence, it should come as no surprise that SPAGnVOLA has had no problem positioning itself as a premium brand. With two boutiques in Maryland and one opening in the future in Atlanta as well as the Baltimore Airport, the designer chocolate brand has generated quite a buzz garnering a loyal customer base and impressive business partnerships with luxury brands such as Rolls Royce.
Even so, the Reids’ expectations extend far beyond brand building and generating profit. They are fully committed to building a business that is socially responsible. In addition to sharing farmland with their farmers and permitting them to grow their own crops to earn additional income on top of their wages, the Reids have partnered with the University of West Indies in Barbados to launch SPAGnVOLA Academy, the first ever academic program geared towards moving cacao farmers from exporters to chocolate manufacturers. “So, what this means is, when you export at the farm level, you’re making less than fifty cents per pound but when you export from the factory gate the profit jumps to about $8 per pound. It’s a game changer,” says Eric. SPAGnVOLA Academy, currently in the curriculum building phase, should be up and running around November of this year.
It is this kind of socially conscious and ethical business approach paired with the Reids’ strong passion for creating expertly crafted chocolate that makes the SPAGnVOLA success story so sweet.
For your next chocolate rush, visit SPAGnVOLA at its Gaithersburg boutique located at 360 Main Street, suite 101 or stop by their National Harbor location at 181 Waterfront Street in Oxon Hill, Md.
SPAGnVOLA also offers complimentary Truffle Factory Tours on weekends that last for about 45 minutes and capacity fill up quickly. To reserve a spot, click here. They also offer chocolate making classes that are very popular.
Photo credit: Ebony Flake