We had the good fortune of connecting with Karen M. Blackwell and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Karen M., can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
I’ve had an amazing 15+ year career in the medical device industry with leadership roles in Strategy, Marketing, Operations, and Sales. I have loved working for Mission Driven organizations, but I was drawn to do more for my community.

In 2018, I traveled to Ghana and I absolutely fell in love with the flavor profiles unique to Ghana Cocoa. It was creamy, chocolatey, and fruit-forward – but most importantly, it didn’t have that strong bitter taste that is associated with most dark chocolates. Through my research, I was struck by the lack of single-origin Ghanaian chocolate available within stores. While Ghana is the 2nd largest producer of Cocoa in the world, the export of cocoa beans have been a priority over the export of bean to bar chocolate.

I started with the love of chocolate, but it turned into a passion project with strategic resolve to elevate the Ghana Cocoa Bean experience, create awareness, and create initiatives around social responsibility in Ghana and the United States.

Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
We are most proud that our chocolate is made in Ghana. It is grown, processed, and packaged in Ghana before being shipped to the U.S. for distribution. By having our chocolate made in Ghana, we are able to: • Increase the export of finished chocolate (vs. cocoa)
• Contribute to the paying off the debt left over from their liberation from colonialism.
• Contribute to jobs in Ghana.
• Pay a premium for Fair Trade Cocoa.
• And create overall awareness of Ghanaian Chocolate

We are also proud of the fact that we donate 10% of our proceeds back to a local charitable organization.

Where I am today is the culmination of all the experiences I’ve had throughout my lifetime. From being an activist to climbing the corporate lattice to starting off in science, it all contributes to me being able to success in my role today.

With all of my experiences, I still experienced challenges. Covid-19 was an additional challenge. While the beginning of the pandemic was hard on us, we sought out ways to pivot to survive and thrive. We made product changes, created partnerships, and added new sales channels as a way of survival.
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PRODUCT CHANGES
We originally offered a shelf display box with 10 chocolate bars that was meant for retail stores. Once Covid hit, we pivoted to offer trio boxes of chocolate with decorated gift boxes to upgrade the experience. This allowed customers to purchase in smaller quantities and share the chocolate as a gift.
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PARTNERSHIPS
We then created partnerships for virtual events to drive awareness of our brand. We partnered with wine sommeliers, Uncle Nearest Whiskey, chocolate tasting experts, Yelp, and many more. Having the synergistic partnerships drive awareness without the added cost was instrumental in getting our message out there.
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NEW SALES CHANNELS
With our partnerships driving awareness, we also needed to provide the customer with access to our products. We added 5 new sales channels. We got our chocolates on Amazon’s website, into subscription boxes, and on to wholesale websites that cater directly to the customer and small businesses.

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I’ve learned that:
– there are a million paths to success, so you just have to find the one that works best for you.
– there will always be challenges and that it’s how you rise through them vs. trying to go around them.
– that prayer works (it’s a part of my business strategy)
– that it’s sooo very vital to take time for ourselves (self-care is a must for any entrepreneur … especially in the beginning)

I want the world to know that I am focused on being a brand synonymous with helping others. I want to live it, breath it, demonstrate it, and continue to duplicate it over and over again.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Omg yes! .
First things, we would hit up the Flower Market in DTLA and pick out a some flowers. All of my friends deserve to have their own custom bouquet of flowers in their room for their stay.
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Next, we would go to Poppy + Rose in DTLA for a rooftop breakfast. It’s cute, casual, and right next to our infamous flower market. The food is amazing!
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Next, we would hit up Santa Monica Beach (South of Pier) near old Santa Monica and rent some chairs and an umbrella from Perry’s.
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After a morning at the beach, we would hit up My 2 Cents LA for lunch. They have elevated soul food with both vegan and gluten free options – never misses! There is also a cute boutique next door for a quick shopping moment.
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After lunch, we would head out to Ambassador Liquor in Long Beach, CA to stock up on some alcohol for the weekend festivities.
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We’d then come back downtown for pre-dinner drinks at Rush in Culver City. I’m from Chicago and they remind me of home.
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Then, we’d have a sunset dinner at Nobu Malibu
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Then we’d finish the evening with drinks and music at Mama’s Shelter in Hollywood.
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The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Both my parents have been the ultimate bundle of inspiration. My dad worked his way up through corporate America, just like I did, and then opened his own car dealership to become a part the elite group of general motors minority dealership owners At the same time, my mother re-invented herself by getting her master’s degree in nursing at the age of 50. She took herself out of the clinical setting and became both a corporate advisor and nursing instructor. And beyond their own accomplishments, they have continuously poured into me, supported me, and they have truly been my biggest cheerleaders. I was never going to be a dancer, actor, etc, but they showed up to every performance like I was. They have always and continue to be there for me.

Website: https://www.kandachocolates.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kandachocolates

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/kandachocolates/

Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/kandachocolates

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kandachocolates

Image Credits
Credit Kai Byrd at @kaibyrd_ for first headshot image Credit Me for images in office Credit Rollect Vander Bosscher @rollex_1 for images of our cocoa being grown and harvested

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutLA is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.