Former Politician Turns to Sweet Business

by Laura McCamy on April 23, 2014
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“As a policymaker, I spent a lot of time on economic development,” says Nancy Nadel, who served on the city council of Oakland, Calif., for 16 years before retiring in 2012. The former politician has since turned her attention to developing a small business, The Oakland Chocolate Co.

“I have always been interested in science and in art,” says Nadel (pictured), who has an art degree and previously worked as a geophysicist and an environmental engineer. “Chocolate is a wonderful, complicated process that satisfies a lot of those interests.”

Her introduction to making chocolate came on a trip to Jamaica in 2005. “One of my friends introduced me to some cocoa farmers,” she says. “I was fascinated.” After meeting growers of St. Mary Parish, Nadel set out to make her own chocolates.

To learn how to get from cocoa bean to chocolate bar, she attended a weeklong class at the University of California, Davis. “After that, I just practiced and practiced and practiced,” she says.

Nadel made her first chocolates in the commercial space owned by a neighbor, Brown Sugar Kitchen. “It was a good way to get started,” she says, but bean-to-bar “chocolate equipment takes up a lot of room.” So she bought a space in 2013 and set up her own kitchen.

Paying It Forward

The former politician wants to use her business to promote social equity. She aims to use her company to create a worker-owned cooperative that connects Jamaican cocoa farmers with candy-makers in Oakland.

“I recognize that my economic privilege enabled me to start the company. Without capital, such endeavors are very risky and very expensive in interest payments,” she says. “The next challenge will be developing a model for how someone with limited capital can become a part owner with their labor or ingenuity being the ‘capital’ they bring to the table.”

In the summer, when U.S. chocolate sales wane because of the heat, Nadel travels to Jamaica to meet with farmers who are working to set up their own processing facilities, which will allow them to keep more of the sale price of their beans. “I’m looking forward to being able to buy directly from the farmers association,” she says.

Nadel describes the taste profile of pure Jamaican beans as nutty and ending on a cherry note. “I think the uniqueness of the Jamaican chocolate that I have is that it has a combination of those flavors,” she adds. “It’s a very rich and wonderful experience.”

The Oakland Chocolate Co. sells its products at local farmers markets, Oakland First Fridays, retail stores, and online.

Laura McCamy is a freelance writer based in Oakland, California. She writes about small business, real estate, and development. An avid urban bike rider, she also loves to cover bicycling, urban planning, and the intersection of bicycles and business. Follow her on Twitter @lmcwords.

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