We talked to: Ana Bandeira Chocolates

Hi, Dave! Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your business, and why you chose downtown Northampton as a location?

My primary job has been as a musician, and I often need to travel to both Boston and NYC for shows. With family in the Northeast as well, this area just felt like the right place for us to settle down. We really liked it here, and my wife got a job here—it’s the perfect mix of not being a big city, but being close to the cities that we frequently visit.

I started the chocolate business in Brazil about 5 years ago with my partners, who are my brother-in-law and his wife, where we were making chocolate on our family cocoa farm. My wife’s grandparents, Ana and Bandeira, started the farm many years ago and we have grown and expanded it from there. During the initial phase of the pandemic, I spent three months in Brazil working on the business and doing direct sales to people’s houses. We kept building from there, hiring one person to make the chocolate, and then opened the store in Brazil and hired more people. When the space here in Northampton became available, we felt like it was the right time to open a cafe with freshly baked goods, specialty coffee drinks, and our chocolate.

We are continuing to increase our chocolate offerings now, and the food side of the business here is doing really well so far. We are trying to offer a diverse array of food items while also keeping everything made in-house.  Now it’s just about getting the word out even more that we are here and looking forward to having people visit, enjoy the space, and try our food, drinks, and chocolate. We definitely have some regulars so far, and look forward to more of that in the future.

What are some challenges you endured, and what are some positive things that you’ve learned/that have come out of the past three years?

The main challenge is just that it’s a big space and for us to grow quickly, we need a lot of support.  We  are slowly growing a more consistent local base, including people who are here every single day. It’s a nice rapport and we love that we get to plug into a community that we have never had before. In 8 months, I’ve gotten to know so many people, and with the word-of-mouth recommendations, we can continue to grow a loyal following and encourage out-of-town visitors as well. We also greatly appreciate how amazingly welcoming other business owners have been.

The chocolate company has been a challenge at every step of the way, as we are taking on every aspect of the process from farming to processing to importing and exporting. There’s a big learning curve, but it’s also exciting work. Also, learning to bake at a professional level has been challenging but fun. Learning how to deal with customs, doing labeling for the FDA, and various other steps on top of having a new restaurant is a lot to manage. But it’s been fun to figure things out and see everything start to fall into place. Each time we import, we do more ourselves. For instance, I just went to pick up a shipment from the airport, and the next one will come in by sea. It gets bigger each time, and we try to do everything we can.

As business owners, what do you do to unwind/relax/rejuvenate?

We’re still in crazy mode, and I’m still traveling for gigs as a musician. I’m going to Philly first, and then on to Japan. Last week I was in Michigan. In a month, I’ll be going down to Brazil. It’ll be that way for a little while, but it already feels less insane than it was several months ago! There is a bit of relief and room to breathe as we continue to build on the base we’ve established. The more we can sell chocolate across the country, the better off we’ll be.

We definitely try to have time as a family when we get a chance. My sister recently got married and my parents were just visiting, so it’s nice to have that time together. This place really doesn’t allow for a full day off, but I do try to work from home here and there when I can. Thankfully, everything I’ve been doing for the cafe and the business overall are things I really enjoy. I appreciate the variety and getting to try new things.

What are some exciting things coming up, from events to new pastries/chocolates, etc.?

We have a couple of big things coming up, including having the chocolate bars in the cafe for sale. We’re also starting to do more music—currently, every Friday and we hope to expand from there. We want to find people to do more community-based events with, such as Irish sessions, open mics, and a Brazilian samba group. We also recently won gold medals for our caffè latte bar and our 60% milk chocolate bar at the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle, so that was pretty exciting, especially since it was our first time entering such a prestigious contest.

Fun little new Q: what’s your favorite winter food and beverage?

I’m going with chocolate mole, which is one of my favorite food items and is something I want to bring here to the cafe. It’s definitely on my list of things that I can’t wait to share with our customers, as I make it often. Drinks-wise, I have to say a Belgian beer. For a beverage here at the cafe, I would go with the Brazilian cappuccino, which is a cappuccino with a layer of chocolate ganache and cinnamon atop that.

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