How Jessica Spaulding started a chocolate factory that got featured on Oprah’s Favorite Things list

Abu Mubarik March 29, 2023
Jessica Spaulding. Photo credit: harlemeatup

Jessica Spaulding is the founder of Harlem Chocolate Factory, a craft brand she started after losing her job. She saw notices announcing the New York StartUP! Business Plan Competition and decided to seize the opportunity. In 2018, she launched her business, but not without hard work. She took a free course on business ventures and received a $3,000 loan grant from Ascendus, as well as a $15,000 grant from the NYC public library. She also got free legal and accounting services from Start Small Think Big.

According to Spaulding, opening a first storefront was the game changer for her, although it was not with challenges. “Opening the store gave us a chance to create an experiential brand,” she told Forbes in an interview.

One of her major challenges was positioning her premium chocolate when people within the catchment area of her product were used to paying for mass-produced chocolate at convenience stores.

Prior to the pandemic, business was booming for Spaulding, particularly in the store and from corporate gifting and retailers. Despite the prospect, getting a loan was not easy for her. She had commitments of up to $500,000 from corporations and retailers, but banks refused to give her a loan because they felt chocolate celebrating black culture had limited appeal.

“Pre-pandemic, the idea of having a business supported because it’s Black-owned was unheard of, especially one steeped in African-American culture,” Spaulding told Forbes. “The beauty of Harlem is its bittersweetness: projects and brownstones; caviar and quarter juices; opportunity and poverty.”

The pandemic saw Spaulding lose close to 70% of her revenue from corporate gifting and events. “All of them canceled. Foot traffic to the store dropped dramatically, too. It was a nightmare,” she told Forbes.

Her story reflects the situation of many African Americans who were disproportionately hit by the pandemic. One report said 40 percent of black businesses were temporarily or permanently closed due to the pandemic.

“[As a result,] there was this hyperfocus on ways to support Black-owned businesses,” Spaulding said. She even got celebrity endorsements from Beyoncé and Oprah. And when her business began picking up again, the disruption in the supply chain and shipping due to covid, meeting online orders became a nightmare.

Nonetheless, she managed to keep her business afloat from grants. Her business even got featured on Oprah’s Favorite Things List.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: March 29, 2023


Must Read

Connect with us

Join our Mailing List to Receive Updates