The other day I read a great story in Crain’s New York called “Brooklyn’s fancy artisanal-food businesses are getting chewed up.” It’s all about how hard it is to live out the “ultimate foodie fantasy” of starting a small business and making it work. The piece focuses on the boom in 2008 and the subsequent demise of so many small companies in Brooklyn and New York — and how difficult it is to turn a profit for the ones that have stayed afloat. But it’s not just about NYC; the artisan food business is a hard one.
Chocolate makers in particular are generally not businesspeople. They’re creative types like me, who work to hone their craft. But as I’m sure you already know, these days everyone has to be a business whiz, understanding not only how to make the best chocolate but also master marketing and so on. (As Amano’s Art Pollard told me recently, “I’d like to say the most important part is the chocolate. But whether we like it or not, sales and marketing is the most important. Unless you sell it, it doesn’t matter what you’ve got.”)
That’s why I was so pumped when recently I learned about an amazing resource for the chocolate community: the Food Craft Institute, in San Francisco. It’s a nonprofit educational institution dedicated to helping artisan food businesses. That means classes for the industry on management, fundraising, business planning, and more, as well as classes for interested civilians like Industry Intensive Chocolate, which is coming up, August 10 through 20. They call it "a new chocolate class for the 99%." Some of my all-time favorite folks are teaching this one, like Jessica Ferraro from Bar Cacao, Brad Kintzer from Tcho, and Greg D’Alesandre from Dandelion; other favorites have taken classes at FCI, like Bryan Graham of Fruition.
Director Ally DeArman told me the institute has started gearing courses for a general interested audience as well as professionals: "More consumers and advocates should invest in an industry they want to see continue," she said. For the chocolate class, she's hoping to see pastry chefs, chocolatiers, and anyone else in the supply chain or folks who are just interested in learning more.
Beyond the classes, they have a pretty cool list of resources for artisan food businesses (like business advising, renaissance entrepreneurship centers, places to look for funding, and legal aid), as well as a solid network of partners and founders. And it’s not just chocolate: It’s coffee, butchery, beer, and more.
In other words, I’m jealous: I can’t think of an equivalent resource like this for writers. But I’m sure there are others for artisan food and small businesses. I want to know about them!