The last few years of the chocolate life has been like popping the cork off a highly pressurized champagne bottle. It's been a blur, but we all know where we were in 2020.
The last few years have also been, like so many of us, reflections on what is and what is not. These massive changes woke us up to question our human life. On October 31, 2022, the doors of ChocoVivo were to be closed as I had no intention of renewing it. It was the end of our 10 year lease on Washington Blvd in Culver City. Fifteen years ago, many didn't know what bean-to-bar meant. There were a handful of us and now there are over 200 of bean-to-bar makers in the US alone. I'm sure someone will let me know what that exact number is. From one farmer's market stand to a store on Abbot Kinney, to our flagship here, I started with just an idea. I withstood the stares of many that wondered why a Wharton grad would want to give it all up to, what many saw, slave away at a small business, when one can be making over six figures. My parents sure questioned that. This was before the days of ping-pong tables and cold brew on tap were such a privilege in the corporate life.
My Dad died this year on January 31, 2022, the day before Chinese New Year. He never could understand what I was doing. Being the Tiger Dad that he was, I'm sure there was shame of me not living up to what he thought I should have been: Married, a mother, have a nice house with a white picket fence. As my mother asked one day, "Why can't you be happy working in a company?"
During the last six months of Dad's life, I became his caretaker. Flying back and forth from Los Angeles to Oklahoma City. One night, I showed dad my collage of pictures; the cacao farm, beautiful blue waters in the Yucatan and of course the press articles. His comment was, "Wow, Patricia, you really know how to live." I was taken aback as I thought, is that a bad thing? Isn't that our purpose is to be happy?
Dad and I became very close as he shared his stories, regrets, and possible fear of death. It was a moment to embrace Dad as how I saw watching The Brady Bunch and The Cosby Show. Tender sweet moments of vulnerability and the words of "I Love You." surfaced which brought an emotional wellspring and questions of "Why can I only have six months of Dad's emotional vulnerability and transparency. That can never be answered, but as many say, at least I got it.
The only funeral I ever went to was for my music teacher, Ms. Carlson, in elementary school. I remember looking at her body in a casket and thought, she looks the same. She's sleeping and has nice makeup on. During Dad's last few days of living, I held his warm hands and put them against my face. Smelled them like smelling a newborn's new scent. I gave him a bath, massages and wet his mouth with sponges dipped in water so his mouth wouldn't get parched from breathing so hard thru his mouth. He was ready to pass and when he did pass, I smelled his right hand one last time and stared at his body. His hand was cold. There was no scent. But there was peace in the room. It was a moment to feel his soul go out of the body and in full alignment with the "white light". A beautiful experience in my eyes. The day of January 31, 2022 will be a joyful remembrance with great admiration, appreciation and awareness of his impact on people around him on this Earth.
After death comes the paperwork and estate. Dealing with Dad's death and now the other half, my mom, brought childhood memories that I thought I had already dealt with 10 years ago with therapy. But it rose to the surface so much so that I decided, in May of this year, to live like a monk and retreat myself at Thich Nhat Hanh's Deer Park Monastery. The mindfulness expert also died in January of this year, 9 days earlier than Dad. It was the right moment for me to find solitude and comfort in knowing that I could be in a safe space. Living the monastic life was like pushing the breaks to 5 mph when I was going 100 mph for the last 15 years. It was meditation at every waking moment: sitting meditation, walking meditation, working meditation, eating meditation, and then sleep. I never heard it called sleeping meditation, but I assume that to be. I learned quickly after Day 1 during the 5:00 AM gong that I couldn't hog up one bathroom shared by 3 other girls in this dorm-like setting. The last time I lived like this was 20 years ago. I soon learned to roll out of bed, brush my teeth, put my hair in a bun, and then put my glasses on and try to walk ever so slowly up the hill. Eye burgers and everything else had to wait. I knew during sitting meditation, that tears would flow so why bother. And everyday as I round the corner to go up another hill before I got to the meditation hall, I would walk underneath the banner that read, "A Cloud Never Dies". This is Thich Nhat Hanh's insightful meaning that life, like a cloud, continues in different forms. Everything is always transforming. We are always in continual transformation.
Two months before October 31, things started to happen. Can't really put a finger on it. Not like I woke up one day and said, I'm a brand-new person. Let's just say, I got my second wind. Seeing someone die before my eyes in such a short period of time, made me question my own life. Would I have regrets if I finally closed the door? I've always based my decisions on my intuition. Hard to explain as to why an Asian girl, growing up in the middle of Oklahoma, transporting herself to the east coast and then eventually to the west coast, would go into the jungles of Mexico and become an expert on this world of cacao . It befuddles me. I only wonder and can say, if the doors continue to open, I must keep going.
That leads me to this, the store is not closing. We are expanding our coffee program at ChocoVivo where Chocolate meets Coffee to create a Mocha Bar. I'm excited about this next phase for ChocoVivo as having the Mocha Bar will allow us to expand our hours to reach the morning crowd and serve pastries and still be open at night. But also, what this means is that we are shifting our manufacturing to the farm. We will not be making chocolate bars like we currently have. No more stone-ground, soft-like-fudge, and dry like fine champagne texture of chocolate. No one makes chocolate like we do. For good reason, because shelf-life is short, and it can only be made in small batches. For those that have had the privilege of enjoying these bars for the last 15 years, the day will come soon, 3 months or so, before the last bar that is stone-ground at ChocoVivo is gone. Stock up while you can. They last over a year in the freezer! This also means the taste of our drinking chocolate will change. We will be using the Chocolate Chips that are made at the farm.
I will shed a tear once that last bar is gone. And when the last few bars are dwindling down, I will invite you to the store for one last dance, as we hold our cups up in the air to say a good-bye for the great adventure that you have been so gracious to walk alongside with me. It will be a sad day, but also a joyous one, just like the day Dad died. Our transformation
What I am even more excited about is a new project that I have been working on even before the initial decision to close the store. It came about when I was looking out into the picturesque ocean on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica during The Pandemic. I asked myself, "What am I passionate about?" And it came to me. Relationships, community, intimacy, women's health. I won't quite give it away, but know that I always go back to the history of Chocolate. Chocolate and sex go well together. Ask Montezuma who drank gallons of chocolate and had a harem of women.
In the meantime, you'll start to see us creeping back into your inboxes. We will be starting a new rewards program and a VIP status. Hold on to your seats as I take you on this journey of The Life of Chocolate. You have carried me thru and supported me in the loneliest and uncertain times. Businesses have come and go, and this small chocolate company called ChocoVivo is still standing and peeking out from underneath the clouds to see if it's safe to come out and play. Not sure why we are still standing, as opposed to someone else, but I'm meant to keep going, and I would be so honored, if you have read this far down, that you can join me on ChocoVivo Phase 2. I have this feeling that the last fifteen years has been to get to this other fork in the road, to which I choose to take the path less traveled, but this time with more wisdom, ease and grace, while leading you confidently down the unexpected journey of The Life of Chocolate. The journey will be well worth it.