High-school sweethearts and native Venezuelans Ricardo Trillos and Anelith Ortega come from business backgrounds, but the pair loves chocolate just as much as they love each other.
After marrying in 1998, the couple moved to the United States in 2004. Trillos worked in human resources while Ortega gained experience in logistics.
Trillos, experimenting with chocolate, brought his treats to his office to share with coworkers. They raved about them, often ordering more from him. When Trillos’ company shut down during the Great Recession — and Trillos was laid off — he turned to chocolate in the meantime. He hasn’t looked back.
Trillos and Ortega founded Cao Chocolates —Trillos’ nickname is “Cao” — in Miami in 2009. They began work in a commercial kitchen until they launched their factory and retail store in 2012.
Cao’s chocolate is made from two ingredients: cacao and sugar. They source FairTrade beans from farms in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Tanzania, Ecuador, Madagascar and many more. Cao Chocolate works directly with the farmers to obtain high-quality, well-fermented cacao beans.
Cao turns its single-origin chocolate into bars, truffles, bonbons and many other confections such as gingerettes, mendiants, baked goods, orangettes and others.
As pioneers in Miami’s bean-to-bar chocolate scene, Cao dedicates a big part of its time to educating the consumer. Chocolate tastings are held at Cao’s store every week, along with classes. Cao Chocolates are available at Miami International Airport, Milam’s Markets, Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Loew’s Miami Beach, Four Seasons Brickell, Panther Coffee and other locations.
Trillos answers the questions below.
If you were stranded on a deserted island with only one kind of candy, what would it be?
I would love to have a chocolate mousse. If it can be an ingredient, I would pick condensed milk.
What’s the last cool thing you saw online?
A funny video of how dogs can smell when owners are cheating on them with other dogs in the streets and their behavior. Pretty cool.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
In Venezuela, we have hot dog carts like New York, and I wanted to run one of them and make hot dogs for everybody. Also, working in a fish market was one of my options. Pretty funny, now that I look back.
What issues concern you most about the confectionery industry and why?
Pastry chefs and chocolatiers who spend too much time working on pretty bonbons or desserts but do not take the time to think if the ingredients work in harmony and if the final result will be enjoyable. I respect their pretty work, but I focus on flavors, and as a consumer, I hope a pretty dessert tastes even better.
What’s the last book you’ve read?
“The 4 Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss. It has great business advice.
What is your pet peeve?
Drivers, and people who pretend to know more about a topic than they actually do.
If given the chance to choose anyone, with whom would you like to collaborate?
Jordi Rocca. I love creativity, and I think he could take any of my crazy ideas to the stratosphere. Also we both love chocolate, which will make it easier.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A friend told me that we become what we think about the most. Not necessarily advice but a great way to program my mind.
What excites you most about your job?
I believe creativity is key, and the opportunity to make something different every day keeps boredom away. Also traveling, meeting farmers and discovering different cacao brings a lot of perspective of life, food and cultures.