We had the good fortune of connecting with Miriam Gitelman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Miriam, what principle do you value most?
The core principle of our business is integrity. It’s key to the work we do day-to-day, as well as how we go about sourcing our ingredients and supplies. For reasons I can’t completely explain, I’ve always had a very strong sense of justice. Even as a child, when I saw something I knew was wrong, or a person or animal being mistreated, I would speak up (and in circumstances where I couldn’t, it would eat at me for a long time). When I started Coco Jolie, I knew that I would only use organic, fair trade or direct trade chocolate, as well as similarly certified ingredients wherever possible. Specifically because of the long history of child labor abuse and farmer exploitation in the cacao supply chain, it was very important to me to ensure that our chocolate come from traceable sources where farmers were being paid a living wage, able to reinvest in their communities, and utilize farming practices which support a healthy and sustainable environment. The chocolate we use in all our products checks these boxes (plus it’s vegan, kosher, and delicious!), and I am now in the process of sourcing chocolate for a new line of single origin bars, adhering to these same criteria. Equally important is that all our products are 100% vegan. While the aforementioned criteria ensure the wellbeing of the people and land involved in making our products, I also wanted to ensure that to the best of my knowledge and ability, that no animals were harmed in the process of creating our products. I know that the majority of our customers are not necessarily vegan, but I’m determined to show that it’s possible to make delicious, luxurious, and beautiful products without causing harm or suffering to others. Lastly, integrity is at the core of the craft of our chocolates. Real, natural ingredients without artificial flavors or preservatives, and a very high bar when it comes to the flavor and aesthetic quality of the products our customers receive. We always have some items in any given production run that don’t pass muster, either because of some visual or structural defect. We “recycle” them where possible into another product, or give them as samples in some of the classes I teach. People have told me I should sell them at a reduced cost as “duds,” but I simply can’t put them out there for sale as a representation of my work and standards. Our customers are putting their trust in us when they decide to spend their hard earned money on our chocolates, and I can only provide them with the very best I’m capable of creating, with the very least negative impact possible to other people, animals, and the planet.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’ve wanted to work in the culinary field since I was about 12 years old. But life had other plans and I went to college and earned a degree in architecture. I worked in that field for about 7 years, which taught me a lot of important things, including that I had an entrepreneurial nature and didn’t like being constrained by others’ ideas of corporate hierarchies and “the right way” to achieve one’s goals. I then taught myself graphic design and coding, and started my own web design company in the very early days of the internet. For the next 20 years I worked in web technology, both owning or co-owning my own agencies, as well as working for other start-ups. One of my long time clients was a wine and spirits importer, which gave me some initial entry into the food and wine world, even if it was from the tech side. I got to meet some wonderful people, and get a glimpse into the field that I had wanted to go into so long ago. Finally about 5 years ago (after a series of life changes and a very unsatisfying and frustrating stint as a co-founder of another tech company), I got the opportunity to go to culinary school. So at the age of 43, I completed a professional pastry program, then did some further study with several chocolatiers around the world, and started Coco Jolie about 3 years ago. I feel extraordinarily grateful that I finally had the opportunity to pursue my real passion, and have been able to turn it into a real business. It has not been an easy or smooth journey, but every day I get to wake up and go do what I love, and bring happiness to others. It doesn’t get better than that!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Well it would have to be a tour of all the fine chocolate shops in town, right? So we’d definitely go to Compartes, andSons, ChocoVivo, Milla Chocolates, and John Kelly, just to name a few. LA has so many wonderful chocolatiers, we’d probably need more than a week to cover all of them.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?
So many people! But I will point out two. The first was my grandmother Sarah, who passed over 20 years ago before Coco Jolie was even an idea, but who instilled in me a deep sense of love, kindness, and generosity without conditions. She was the one person in my early life who was relentlessly supportive, cheering on my ideas or endeavors no matter how crazy they may have seemed to others. And the second person is my husband, Uri, who believes in me every day and encouraged me to give my lifelong dream a real shot. Without his willingness to go along with me on this crazy ride, whether it’s packing orders at 2am or talking me down from the ledge when I get panicked about something, none of this would be possible. He is truly the reason I had the courage to start this, and have the courage to continue it every day.
David Zimand Photography