We had the good fortune of connecting with Corinne Joachim-Sanon-Symietz and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Corinne, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
Growing up in Haiti, I was aware of the poverty and lack of financial opportunities many people around me were dealing with. As a teenager, I was already resolved not to just do charity, but to create jobs.
15 years passed and I was ready to launch this business. It was important for me for the business to:
1) create revenue for farmers (by sourcing their crop ethically while providing them with a living wage)
2) create jobs for young adults (by providing a recurring source of revenue for all our employees, preferably women)
3) create opportunity outside of Port-au-Prince (by helping with decentralization and strengthening our countryside)
With these 3 mains objectives as my guiding compass, I started researching different crops to transform.
What should our readers know about your business?
Founded in 2015, Askanya Chocolates is Haiti’s first premium bean-to-bar chocolate company. The chocolate bars are exclusively made with locally-grown Haitian cacao, Haitian unrefined whole cane sugar and other ingredients without preservatives at the colorful chocolate factory located in Ouanaminthe Haiti. Besides, all our chocolate makers are women!
Askanya Chocolates bars are currently available in Milk, Brown Sugar, Dark, Extra Dark, Orange and Lime flavors in regular bar (2oz), bite-size bars, block for baking and seasonal gift sets.Askanya.
At Askanya Chocolates, we strive to offer to all chocolate lovers delicious chocolates from Haiti, 100% natural, made with ingredients sourced directly and ethically from thousands of Haitian farmers and handcrafted by Haitian chocolates makers, all women!
What’s something that you wish you knew when you first started out?
Having strong the finances (cash-flow) to meet expenses was paramount. Launching Askanya Chocolates ended up costing 3 times more than I had initially budgeting to setup the business. I used all my credit cards and put in all my savings (even some of my 401k) in starting the chocolate company.
In addition, I knew that choosing to offer chocolates was a good idea, but I didn’t expected people to fall in love with them the way they did: I have customers writing from Italy, Spain, Australia, saying how Askanya Chocolate was one of the best, or the best chocolate they have ever eaten. Furthermore, I am super pleased every time a Haitian in France, Canada or the USA is so proud to discover our chocolate made in Haiti with Haitian cacao.
As an Entrepreneur, I face the same challenges, you would face in any setting, under-funded, under staffed and dealing with the unexpected. But we’ve managed to resolve them and move forward. Cool Hunting NY – in collaboration with Cadillac named us one of the top 25 entrepreneurial ventures that is changing the world (2015) and Condé Nast name us one of the Top Chocolate Gift (2022)
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Well, that’s great you are asking this – in early August 2019, my girlfriend Eddie from Bonbon Lakay came to Northern Haiti and we had an amazing weekend visiting Cap-Haitian and its surrounding.
Thursday – 11 AM Check-In at Boutique Hôtel – Habitation des Lauriers / beautiful overview of Cap Haitian
Thursday – 1 PM Afternoon at Cormiers Plage / Chocolate Dessert was made with Askanya Chocolates
Thursday – 7 PM Dinner at Lakay Restaurant – the local institution! You don’t go to Okap without having a meal at Lakay Restaurant. Period.
Friday – 9 AM Tap-Tap to Milot / Day Trip to Citadelle, Palais Sans Souci (we hiked all the way to the fort while snacking on local mango, quenepes and sugar cane along the way
Friday – 7 PM – Evening Dinner with a view at Satama Hotel (Priceless!)
Saturday – 10 AM Taxi to the Labadie pier / Small boat ride to Max’s for a lunch of fresh caught lobsters grilled in front of us; then afternoon at Île à Rat. Return under the rain (Also Priceless)
Saturday – 8 PM – Lounging at the hotel. One option was to go to Tropicana Ball but we stayed in!
Sunday – 6 AM Baptism in l’Acul du Nord (1 Moto, 1 minibus, 1 walk into town)
Sunday – 2 PM Moto ride back to Cap Haitian with stop at Vertières Monument to the Heroes of Independence
Sunday – 4 PM Walk through Cap Haitian Downtown (Cathédrale and its Plaza, Souvenir Shops by Cap Deli); some light bites at Cap Deli
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
It takes a village to raise a kid; well it also takes a village to start and run a business:
From the thousands of farmers who grew and provide the all-natural ingredients we use in our chocolates;
To the experts who came to Haiti in 2014/2015 to train my newly hired collaborators in the art of chocolate making (special shoutout to Charley Wheelock and Duncan Ellinwood from Woodblock Chocolates, Chloe Doutre-Rousell and Maria Di Giacobetti);
To my now experienced and very dedicated collaborators / chocolate makers who are handcrafting all the chocolates bars with care and dedication;
To my tireless Head of Production of 6+ years (James D. Belizaire) and all the other teammates (operation manager, bookkeeper, financial analyst, social media expert) who makes the business work smoothly
To the HVAC contracting firm, Omnitek, who trek monthly from Port-au-Prince to service our equipment;
To the graphic designer, Marlie Décopain-Lake, who made our vision a reality for our logo and packaging work;
and of course my husband Andreas Symietz who has been extremely supportive since the start of this adventure, my business partner Gentilé Sénat who keeps us grounded and my grandpa (feu Jacques Joachim) who let me transform his summer house in a colorful chocolate factory.
I couldn’t have made it without my village. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.