Erin Andrews worked in finance before launching a company where she can ‘make something people love and do well for the world at the same time.’
CHOCOLATE FOLLOWS a logical progression from bean to bar at indi chocolate in Pike Place Market. Visitors to the glass-walled factory-cafe in the new MarketFront addition can watch as cacao beans sourced by owner Erin Andrews move from roasting and winnowing to refining and tempering, molding and packaging.
The path Andrews followed to those dark chocolate bars, though, was anything but direct.
“I always say we’re one of the most backwards chocolate companies,” she says.
901 Western Ave. D, Seattle; https://indichocolate.com
As she spoke, sipping a rose-infused coffee concoction at the counter, customers browsed shelves of cacao-based teas and mole spice rubs and infusion kits. They debated mint-cocoa butter body lotion vs. chocolate lip balm or handmade chocolate soaps.
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The business started with body-care products, Andrews says, to finance equipment that was good enough and sturdy enough for the chocolates she also wanted to produce. She began her career in another side of the business world entirely, including years in finance, as a senior manager for PricewaterhouseCoopers.
In that world, she worked with a lot of men who started second families after first marriages fell casualty to long hours and a grueling culture. “I wanted to do a first family and do it well,” Andrews says. Starting in 2001, she spent seven years as a stay-at-home parent to her two daughters.
“When you step off that treadmill of corporate America and become an at-home parent, there’s a really big transition: How you define yourself to others, how you define yourself to yourself,” she says.
“I knew I would go back to work. I wanted something that had a bigger impact, where I could see the impact I was making.”
Her children, ultimately, led her to that next transition. They asked her where chocolate came from, and she took them to Belize to see cacao beans growing on trees. In an unlikely encounter that felt like destiny, she founded a chocolate factory there with business partners she met on the trip, working directly with farmers to the point of including a slip of paper in each bar noting which person’s harvest it used.
Firsthand, she could see the difference it made in farmers’ lives when they earned higher rates for those “direct trade” beans.
“Chocolate is something everyone enjoys, but then there’s the ability to have people benefit through something that people enjoy,” Andrews says. “To me, that’s such an amazing magical place — to be able to make something people love and do well for the world at the same time.”
She ended her partnership in that project when indi, named after her oldest daughter, started in a 400-square-foot Pike Place Market shop. It moved to the nearly 2,000-square-foot factory and cafe when the MarketFront addition opened in 2017. Andrews sees the new space as “a bigger playground,” where she can offer classes and hold events, plus produce chocolate and allow room to expand. Her first and only family — her husband and the now-teenaged children — is all involved in the business in some way.
The world of artisan chocolates has expanded since she began producing her own. She’s seen that as a business opportunity rather than a competition, selling small-batch equipment and pursuing joint projects, like visiting farms with like-minded buyers and sharing the costs of shipping the harvest to the United States.
Even if two chocolatiers use the same beans, she says, they’ll roast the beans in their own individual ways and get different results.
Her style is “to source beans where I feel there’s a journey on your tongue … flavors where it takes you someplace.”
In the place where customers start, walking in the factory doors, she often sees an element of surprise: That’s how they make chocolate? The beans can taste that different? You can make soap with chocolate? What else can they do?
“I think that’s what the joy of chocolate is for me: always the unexpected.”