We had the good fortune of connecting with Ella Livingston and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ella, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
I began Cocoa Asante in order to expand my family’s legacy in the cacao industry. I was born in Ghana, the country where the world’s best cocoa is grown. My family has been a part of the cacao industry for several generations as farmers. Cocoa Asante is my way of extending our legacy to include making truffles in addition to cultivating the beans used. The type of chocolate we make was inspired by Nama chocolate. I first tried Nama while living in Tokyo, Japan. I used to travel two hours by train so that I could purchase one box! Before then, I had never tasted chocolate so fresh and rich that it melted in my mouth. Each bite was like an out-of-body experience. In creating Cocoa Asante, my hope is to be able to bring my customers fresh, exquisite chocolate that will allow them to experience what I did all those years ago. Eventually Cocoa Asante will be a bean to bar facility that sources directly from my family’s cacao farm.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
What sets Cocoa Asante apart is our vision and our story. Through Cocoa Asante, I want to address issues of equity in local communities. From Ghana, where our cocoa is grown and eventually will be processed, to Chattanooga where our final products are made
In Ghana, the average cocoa farmer makes about $0.06 for each $1.00 earned in the cocoa industry. Not only is this unfair, but it isn’t sustainable for the communities that are dependent on cocoa. I want to change this narrative by processing the cocoa beans ourselves so that we can invest more of the profits into the cocoa farmers. I would also like to make an impact in my city of Chattanooga. As an educator currently working in high needs schools, I have witnessed how Chattanooga’s growth has impacted various communities. I want to invest in people by training, hiring, and providing opportunities to our local community. I have already begun this process by hiring former students to create marketing material, develop social media content, and assist me with various events. Cocoa Asante is so much more than just a small business that sells exquisite chocolate. I have huge aspirations for our future and I desire to leave the world a better place than I found it.
Building a business from the ground up has been difficult. I have no formal training in chocolate-making so everything I have learned has been through YouTube, reading pastry chef blogs, and LOTS of trial and error. I’ve also continued to work full-time as a highschool teacher and became a mother unexpectedly last year. What helps me persist is having utilizing my support system and prioritizing my family and health. I cannot pour into my students and business if I am mentally tapped out. I also expanded my team. Natasha Guerrero, a talented pastry chef from New York, joined me earlier this year and has taken over production. I am extremely grateful to have her and I cannot wait to see our growth as a company.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Chattanooga is quite special, they don’t call it Scenic City for nothing. I would start by taking them out to enjoy a few of the many beautiful trails we have in the area. One we would hike before sunrise so that we could enjoy the breathtaking view of a sunrise above the clouds and mountain tops. And the other we would do in the afternoon. I’d also be sure to show them around downtown. We would start by visiting the kitchen of Cocoa Asante in North Shore so they could see how we make our chocolate. Then we would walk down to Coolidge park, stopping by my favorite vegan restaurant Cashews for some lunch to-go. After our delicious meal we would be sure to walk across the famous Walnut bridge. On the other side of the bridge we’d check out Edwin Hotel, the Maker’s Space at the public library, Clumpies (for ice cream), The next day we would take a food tour with our friend and Briana Garza at ChattTaste, hitting up awesome local restaurants. The last two – three days we would chill, have dinner at The Proof Bar and Incubator (which has our favorite restaurant Neutral Ground) and Wine Down (another wonderful restaurant in Ooltewah).
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would not be where I am without the support of my husband, family, friends, and business community. They all have been instrumental in my growth as a small business.
Other: TikTok: @cocoaasante
Zach Reynolds, Kenneth Fluence