When Larry Slotnick hired Alex Whitmore to work for him at Zipcar as a “car-jockey,” riding his bike from car to car, neither of them would have guessed that in the fall of 2006 they would start building a bean-to-bar chocolate factory in Somerville, Mass.
After leaving Zipcar, Whitmore packed up his red steel-framed bicycle and headed to South America. Between learning Spanish and solo bike tours through the mountains, Whitmore spent a lot of time with his head in his hands trying to squeeze out his next move.
Then it happened: chocolate is part of everyday life in Central and South America, and Whitmore wanted to bring that spirit to the states. After seeing the unique ways cocoa is consumed in the regions where it is grown, Whitmore envisioned creating a socially-responsible company that brought pure, high-quality, authentically-prepared chocolate back home to New England.
Whitmore brought on the most resourceful man he knew, Larry Slotnick, to help build Taza Chocolate. Together they are building a small but mighty chocolate company, committed to making chocolate as pure as chocolate can be. Slotnick and Whitmore make multiple trips a year to Central and South America to purchase beans directly from farmer cooperatives, paying farmers a higher-than-Fair Trade price.
When it comes to the product, Whitmore has developed a process to make simple chocolate with complex flavor.
Currently Taza offers 60%, 70% and 80% dark chocolate bars that are USDA-certified organic, along withbuna GabiChocolate Mexicano, which is made with traditional Mexican stone mills and a simple ingredient list:
Alex Whitmore (italic) Larry Slotnick (bold)
• What did you think you would be when you grew up?
My parents are both physicians, but I wanted to be a sailor and sail around the world.
Well, my family pre-ordained me as a future doctor, but then I only earned a 3.0/4.0 my freshman year in college, so I re-set my sights on becoming an industrial engineer.
• Name one or some of your favorite movies.
“Gallipoli,” “Hudsucker Proxy” and “ For Your Eyes Only”
I tend toward the human spirit genre such as “Dead Poets Society,” “Sling Blade” and, most recently, the “Great Debaters.”
• Describe your perfect dream vacation.
Bareboat charter in Greece.
One that involves eating food that's prepared either by a local street vendor or by myself over a campfire.
• What book are you currently reading?
“Raising the Bar, Integrity and Business, The Story of Clif Bar Inc.,” by Gary Erickson with Lois Lorentzen.
“The Long Emergency” by James Howard Kuntsler.
• Aside from a family member, whom would you most want to be stranded with on a deserted island?
Ariel, the mermaid.
My fiancée. If she's considered family, then it would be one of the Peace Corp volunteers in the Dominican Republic. They are resourceful like it's nobody's business.
• What's your pet peeve?
Not following through.
People who see obstacles when there are opportunities for social innovation.
• I'd give anything to meet:
• The best piece of advice that I've gotten:
Never give advice.
Things usually work out (because you practice “honesty is the best policy”) for the best if you just be
• What excites you most about your job?
I learn at least ten new things everyday. That’s awesome.
Disrupting the decades-entrenched cacao supply chain by taking risks, and by employing better-than-fair trade business practices. And, of course, making great chocolate.
March 13, 2008