A lecturer who became chocolate maker in her 60s

Personal Finance

A lecturer who became chocolate maker in her 60s


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Lucy Grace, founder of Grace Chocolaterie, a Kenyan chocolate company located at Keraropon Shell Service Station, Ngong Road. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG

Summary

  • Her company, Grace Chocolaterie, is out to change how Kenyans see and enjoy chocolate.
  • During her bread-making course, their instructor took them to a chocolatier.
  • With an investment running into millions, the entrepreneur bought her first batch of cocoa beans from Tanzania and a machine and began producing chocolate manually.

Lucy Katiba Grace did not grow up wishing to be a chocolatier.

She has spent 35 years working as a lecturer, teaching English and French at a hospitality university in Switzerland. But after her husband di lei convinced her to move back to Kenya, she had to find something exciting and challenging to do.

That is how Lucy ended up in the chocolate industry. Her company of hers, Grace Chocolaterie, is out to change how Kenyans see and enjoy chocolate.

Her journey however was anything but straightforward.

“My husband, David Grace, wanted to open a coffee shop. Instantly I thought, ‘What would go well with coffee?’ Lucy tells me at her shop of hers in Shell Station, Kerarapon in Nairobi.

The air is filled with activity as her staff prepares Mother’s Day orders. She learned how to make pastries and bread from professionals in France.

During her bread-making course, their instructor took them to a chocolatier. On the other side of the glass, she saw chocolate being made.

The aroma made its way to her reminding her of time spent enjoying chocolate in Switzerland: the smell of cocoa beans, the invitation to taste, eat, dream and love chocolate.

“I just had to learn the craft. I enrolled at a workshop in Belgium, where I studied all there is to chocolatiering, ”the founder of the enterprise says.

Why Belgium yet she lives in the capital of chocolates?

“Swiss invented milk chocolate but I chose Belgium because being the Mecca of dark chocolate, I’ll learn more. Now I have the best of both worlds. ” In 2019, the mother-of-three moved back to Kenya.

With an investment running into millions, the entrepreneur bought her first batch of cocoa beans from Tanzania and a machine and began producing chocolate manually, as opposed to the machines she had studied with.

Her first products were pralines (a French confectionery that is a cooked mixture of sugar, nuts, and vanilla) which she sold to friends and family.

Along the way, she figured that Kenyans love chocolate bars and pivoted into this. But first, she had to overcome the challenge of the Kenyan climate.

“Chocolate is very sensitive to temperature. My lessons were during cool months and in a much cooler environment. But here in Kenya, the weather is hot. The first time I made chocolate, it didn’t set. I was so stressed, ”she recalls.

“But I pressed on and as time went by, I got the temperature right.”

Having its origins in their home kitchen in Nairobi, working with her husband and sister, the company now employs seven people who turn cocoa mass, the unsweetened soul of chocolate, into sweet chocolate bars. They make white, milk, dark, and caramel.

Three years on, they have grown from selling to individuals in organic markets to having their products occupy space in various retail stores across Nairobi, Nanyuki, Nakuru, and Mombasa ..

“The response has been more than amazing. People love the chocolates and are happy to eat and support a “Made in Kenya ‘chocolate.”

The most popular ones are sea salt and caramel flavors. They incorporate out-of-the-box kitchen ingredients such as chilli, ginger, sesame seeds, cucumber, and dried berries among others.

She also has “bean to bar” chocolate made from only two ingredients — cocoa beans and sugar.

Grace Chocolaterie uses 80 percent cocoa mass from Uganda because it is organic, and cocoa beans from Tanzania.

“Unfortunately, we have to import many raw materials like sea salt, dried raspberries, and strawberries,” she notes.

Because of this, they can only make 10 kilos of chocolate per day.

A career at 60

Despite these unsavory bits of her journey, at 60, Lucy has found something to do for many years to come. Something that she loves doing and excites her soul di lei.

Her children are so proud because they are seeing her do and excel in something she had never done before.

What are her great dreams for the three-year-old company?

“While in Switzerland, I lived in a small town called Neuchatel. I had a favorite chocolate shop located next to the market.

“One of the things I loved about this shop was how I would walk in and be hit by all these beautiful mixes of different aromas from white, milk, and dark and caramel chocolates wafting through the air. I’m not a sweet tooth but I would walk in to buy one chocolate and end up buying more.

“I want to create such an experience for our customers. Also introducing pralines to Kenyans. This would be a wonderful environment for me to work in as I make pralines with ganache that talks to you,” she says.

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