I have this strange habit of falling in love with all the places I visit, and then imagining myself living there — I blame wanderlust.
I recently got back from work trips to Nashville, Tenn. and Montreal, Canada and both locales completely stole my heart.
Nashville’s constant live music, friendly locals and amazing weather won me over so much that I started planning my career as a songwriter. And Montreal’s intoxicating French, gorgeous views, and delicious food had me looking into Canadian immigration policies on the chance that the American people elect Trump and I need a new country to call home.
But it wasn’t just the scenery that swept me off my feet in each place. Two larger-than-life personalities helped show me the way in each city.
In Nashville it was Lance Paine, president of Goo Goo Cluster, LLC., who showed me all the exciting things happening with the Standard Candy Co.’s brand and Music City as a whole. And in Montreal it was Virgil Rubini, president of ChocoStyle Int’l, who not only showed me his company, but the entire thriving confectionery and cultural scene in Quebec.
I’ll have full coverage of the Nashville trip in the March issue, and full coverage of the trip to Canada in April. But in the meantime, I want to take a moment to look at the people behind the companies.
Let’s start with Lance. He’s the kind of guy who is president of a candy company, but still goes by Lance. In fact, I can’t even bring myself to refer to him as Paine. He combines a west coast ease with a constant need to improve and innovate, always looking to the bigger picture, shooting for big dreams — and then actually accomplishing them.
The Nashville trip itself was a small scale version of one of his big ideas that actually came to fruition. I had met with him at the September ECRM in Arizona and during our 20-minute meeting he pitched the idea of funding a trip for me to come visit the new Goo Goo Shop in downtown Nashville, Tenn.
When he first suggested it, my initial thought was honestly, “Yeah, like that’s ever going to happen.” Except it actually did happen. They actually put together a two-day trip for me to come down to Music City and see the store.
And honestly, the store is the very definition of one of those big ideas that Paine could envision before anyone else. It features a retail space in the front, and then a Candy Kitchen in the middle and after that a Dessert Bar in the back. And it all started as an idea in Paine’s entrepreneurial brain.
“Lance is the idea man. His mind is constantly going to the next thing and the rest of us are trying to keep up,” says Lauren Garcia, the confectionery kitchen manager at the Goo Goo Shop.
And actually, that’s a perfect way to describe Virgil Rubini, the president of ChocoStyle Int’l in Montreal. He and I actually connected at the same September ECRM in Arizona (Seriously, if you aren’t attending the ECRM shows, what are you even doing with your life?).
He tracked me down after I had just announced the winners of the ECRM and Candy Industry Magazine Buyer’s Choice awards, and started chatting me up. Next thing I knew, he was pitching the idea of having me come to Canada and visit his facility as well as other confectioners in Quebec, Canada.
It was another idea that I didn’t actually think would come to fruition — but like I had done briefly with Lance, I had underestimated Virgil.
Not only did the trip come to fruition, it was incredible and amazing and gave me a first-hand look at the enticing and exciting chocolate scene in Montreal and Quebec as a whole, taking me to visit not only his facility, but also Laura Secord, Candara, and Morris National.
Virgil brings a mix of passionate Peruvian heritage and Canadian charm to everything does. And while he may be most associated with the gorgeous chocolate shoes his company Chocostyle creates, it’s his newest venture, Axenta, that’s really incredible.
He is working to create an international distribution company that helps confectionery companies import into various North American Markets. And if everything goes as Virgil envisions — and I have no doubt that it will — he’ll be helping confectioners from all over the world break into the U.S. and Canadian markets.
Both Lance and Virgil bring something special into every room they walk into, and both of them have big plans for the confectionery industry. It’s going to be fun trying to keep up.