Corinne Joachim Sanon

The chocolatier bringing social change to Haiti and bean-to-bar chocolate to the world

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Seeing the poverty surrounding me and the lack of jobs and opportunity bothered me

Corinne Joachim Sanon

The chocolatier bringing social change to Haiti and bean-to-bar chocolate to the world

Even in a town filled with bright structures, Les Chocolateries Askanya stands out. Haitian-American businesswoman Corinne Joachim Sanon converted her grandfather’s summer home in Ouanaminthe, Haiti into a chocolate factory and had it painted like a parrot, with a vibrant yellow belly on the main walls and electric blue on the trim, like wings. On the inside, the retrofitted factory churns out a flock of colorful chocolate bars with names inspired by local wildlife and fauna, such as the bird of “Paradis.” a milk chocolate bar with 47% Haitian cacao. The “Wanga Negese” takes its name from the Creole word for hummingbird that has a double meaning: it’s also a voodoo ritual that’s said to be a Haitian aphrodisiac. Sanon and her two co-founders—husband Andreas Symietz and friend Alexandra Lecorps transformed the four-bedroom country home into a full-production chocolate factory—hope that Haiti’s first all-natural bean-to-bar chocolate operation will cast a spell on chocolate lovers at home and abroad.

A prime motivator for her in starting the business was the goal of job creation in Haiti. “I grew up middle class, but seeing the poverty surrounding me and the lack of jobs and opportunity bothered me,” Sanon, 29, recalls. “I felt that people shouldn’t just be dependent on assistance, whether it’s from NGOs or USAID, that we should find ways to create jobs.” Realizing that between 40-60 percent of the population works in agriculture, she set out to make a difference back home after completing her MBA at Wharton, with an eye toward using local crops produced in Haiti. “When I did my research, I found that Haitian cacao is very well-evaluated on the international market—it’s in the top 50 in the world. When fermented and dried, our Haitian cacao is sold to the big chocolate makers, like Valrhona, so I figured I could make a bean-to-bar chocolate company, and export to the US and the rest of the world. It’s not only the crop, the cacao, that comes out of Haiti, but the finished product.”

The idea came about last November and by this April she had a staff of seven full-time employees manufacturing chocolate bars to hit the high-end retail stores, organic shops and five-star hotels in time for Mother’s Day in Haiti. Within the next year, she hopes to make it into the likes of Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and other specialty stores in the US. To that end, Sanon splits her time between Brooklyn Heights and the chocolate factory, occupying one of four bedrooms on the upstairs floor, right next to a stock room containing some 60,000 labels—and another room left open for grandpa, should he choose to visit.

Illustration by Jason Ratliff, images courtesy of Les Chocolateries Askanya

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