Chocolate making was not originally part of the Addison sisters’ plan. Kimberly studied French and international relations at Boston College with a focus on social justice. Priscilla double majored in international development and French at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania with a concentration in food security. Both were working in Geneva, Switzerland in 2014 but contemplating a change.
“I was working in a nonprofit that dealt with women in education. I just began to get quite restless, being at a nine to five at a desk,” Kimberly shared with Travel Noire. “I remember speaking to my dad and telling him I feel like I want to create something. And he was like, ‘Well, why don’t you guys consider moving back to Ghana when I retire,’ because he had been planning on retiring soon. It sounded like a great idea. He spoke to us about entrepreneurship. I remember telling him, ‘okay, when you officially retire, then I will also resign, and we’ll plan to move back to Ghana.'”
Within three to five months, their father called their bluff and made good on his promise to retire. The sisters prepared to return to Ghana with plans to start a still unknown business venture. The answer would come unexpectedly two weeks before their departure, during a tour with some friends to Maison Cailler, a chocolate factory just outside of Geneva.
In a display showcasing the cocoa beans used and where they were sourced, the most prominent countries were Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. The Addisons were stunned.
“We had become very familiar with Swiss chocolate and just the chocolate culture in Switzerland, and it was quite shocking to realize that most of their beans were coming from West Africa,” recalled Kimberly. “Then the parallel side of that is, we would often go back to Ghana. And though it’s the second-largest producer of cocoa, there wasn’t a chocolate culture here. There wasn’t really chocolate production here, let alone quality chocolate. So together Priscilla and I decided that we wanted to change that and use the natural resource, the cocoa grown here, to create a high quality chocolate product that would be available globally, and locally, as well.”
The result is ’57 Chocolate, an artisanal bean to bar chocolate business based in Accra, Ghana. The name is a nod to the country’s independence as well as the revolutionary spirit of the people. The beans are sourced from local farmers. All the confections are free of artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives and retain the integrity of the cocoa.
In addition to their signature chocolate bars, ’57 Chocolate also produces both dark and milk chocolate chips as well as bite-sized Adinkra bars featuring engraved symbols originally created by the Ashanti of Ghana. Priscilla is partial to milk chocolate with almonds and sea salt, but dabbles in their moringa chocolate with toasted coconut when she craves something “a little bit earthy and peppery.”
Kimberly’s tastes vary depending on her mood. She prefers a dark chocolate post-dinner or mocha latte coffee-flavored bar in the mornings. The company has retailers in France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and certain locations in the United States including New York and Texas.
But the process hasn’t been without its challenges. The two grew up in Senegal, were partly educated in the US and spent many years living in Switzerland. Before moving to Ghana in 2014, they visited once a year or every couple of years with their paraents. They needed to adjust to a new dynamic.
“One of the major challenges was just understanding the business environment in Ghana, learning the ropes, speaking to people and understanding how systems work,” said Priscilla. “Another thing would be electricity. When we first arrived in Ghana, there was this thing called dumsor, which means light on light off. There are a lot of power outages, and in order to make chocolate, you need machines that constantly run on electricity. We’d be getting up at odd hours of the night, sometimes at three in the morning, to turn on machines to continue our chocolate making process.”
Another hurdle was finding equipment that was manufactured or available locally to avoid the heavy duties associated with importing machinery. And while feedback has been positive, the duo needed to overcome the stigma of inferiority surrounding locally produced goods.
“People were quite skeptical at first,” admitted Kimberly. “That’s something that we’re also trying to change because there has been a stigma towards ‘made in Ghana’ chocolate, or ‘made in Africa’ chocolate or even ‘made in Africa’ products. They typically are seen as being of lesser quality. When we first told people this is what we’re going to do, people were a little skeptical. But then when they tried the product, a lot of people were shocked and were surprised that this chocolate is actually being made in Ghana.”
Since the inception of ’57 Chocolate, their operation has grown from two to ten people in a larger space, producing an estimated 1,000 bars weekly. The sisters are working on launching an e-commerce site with greater ease of use and expanding their presence in other markets. Not everyone is able to work so intimately with a sibling but it works for the Addisons because they each bring a different skillset to the partnership.
“Kim and I, we make a really great team,” shared Priscilla. “We complement each other, and we have different strengths. But of course, we also have different weaknesses. So places where I’m weak, Kim is stronger, and vice versa.”
They also recognize that their business is a constant learning process and encourage other aspiring entrepreneurs to immerse themselves in their field.
“Just because you have a product doesn’t mean you can’t improve upon that product,” Kimberly chimed in. “And it doesn’t mean that you can’t learn more about it. Make sure you understand the industry you’re getting into. Entrepreneurship is a very fancy, luxurious word. But it’s not always all that fancy when you’re on the inside. So you have to spend a lot of time learning.”
She added, “A lot of people don’t realize this, but the idea came to us in 2014, and we only made our first batch of chocolate in 2016. So we spent a year and a half, almost two years, actually just learning everything we know about chocolate, learning the industry, learning the field, and that learning still hasn’t stopped today.”