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When we first took over Sjaak’s, one of the things I was most impressed by (in addition to the quality of the delicious vegan chocolates) was the dedication of our team members. Many of the staff have been at Sjaak’s Organic Chocolates for six, seven, ten, thirteen years. Having worked most of my life in the Bay Area, it is much more common to see people job-hopping and lasting just a couple years before moving on to their next endeavor. It is so heartwarming to see people enjoy their work and take pride in their craft.

To further engage our team, encourage ideas and innovation, and create a fun environment, we decided to hold the first ever Sjaakolate teambuilding and competition.

This past summer, we were fortunate to be able to bring our teams together — from accounting to sales, from shipping and fulfillment to chocolate-makers — to get to know one another. This was an opportunity for longtime employees to meet our newest hires; for people from all levels of the company to put a face to the emails and a story to the hands that lovingly and carefully make our sjaakolate. We invited all staff to submit recipes. They could do whatever they wanted, as long as the recipe was vegan and organic. They could use any existing equipment and ingredients and have a small stipend to purchase ingredients that we did not have in-house, and could select from any of our existing moulds. Our factory manager and head Sjaakolatier, Leo, reviewed all the ideas and gave feedback and advice on how to bring people’s recipes to fruition. And then our sjaakolatiers assembled. We played some icebreakers (how was it possible that amongst a team of a little over twenty people, we had four pairs of shared birthdays?!?), did some teambuilding exercises, unveiled our new packaging designs and ideas for the coming year, and then literally rolled up our sleeves.

We ended up with thirty-four new recipes (some of our chocolate-makers got very excited and submitted more than one recipe) and the next day we had the Great Tasting. We had an esteemed panel of judges comprised of our top brass chocolate makers and packaging supervisor and also gave each team member 3 meeples to vote for their favorite chocolates.

The chocolates were grouped into their different chocolate types and we had everything from new combinations (Sergio’s melk chocolate salted peanut) to tweaks (Finn’s new lavender recipe which will be featured in the upcoming Valentine’s Salted Caramel) to completely new imaginings (Jose’s Choco Mix which originally included pepitos, sunflower seeds, cranberry, orange, limon, salt, and more).

A look at some of our team’s submissions:

Featuring: Melk & Coconut Milk Thai Tea Truffle, Melk Chocolate Bourbon Truffle, and Melk Chocolate Apple Spiced Caramel

Featuring: Dark Chocolate Cherry, Rocky Road, Dark Chocolate Choco Mix, and Dark Chocolate Strawberry

Featuring: White Chocolate Lemon Cookie, White Chocolate Cranberry Treasure, White Chocolate Almond

Featuring: Dark Chocolate Chai Pistachio, Coconut Milk Chai Pistachio, Melk Chocolate Choco Mix, and Melk Chocolate Apple Crisp

Featuring: Coffee & Mint Mojito, Salted Caramel Lavender, and Mexican Chocolate with Salted Caramel

From simple and elegant recipes to complex prepping, ingredients, and layers — our team embraced the challenge and produced remarkable results that we were able to incorporate into our recently updated European, Nuts & Chews, and Truffle assortments. The first place winner was a new truffle added to the Truffle Assortment (Coffee Mint Mojito) and the People’s Choice winner (White Chocolate Lemon Cookie) will be included in our Easter truffle assortment and possibly introduced as a new bar mid-2021.

Despite the immense overconsumption of chocolates in one afternoon, it was a very inspiring and rewarding experience for our team. Especially in today’s climate of limited social gatherings, zoom calls, and the frenzied pace of emails and text messages, it was truly nice to make personal connections and break bread together. We hope you enjoy the sjaakolates that our team created as we have loved sharing them with you.

• • •

by Nicha Leaser, CEO

Close-up of a Red deer during rutting season in autumn, UK,

For some fun in our seasonal packaging, we think that it would be fun to add a surprise element to all of our seasonal Sjaakolates.

My husband and I love to play board games (hence snowmeeples, rather than snowmen). We also like the idea of incorporating fun surprises in our packaging design so that our Sjaakoholics can play along as they enjoy their treats. For this Christmas, we decided that the red deer would be the perfect inaugural design element. Deer are an integral motif for the holidays so they wouldn’t stand out too conspicuously, they are native to the Netherlands (which is where Sjaak’s founder is from), and they bring to light a great discussion point in the concept of rewilding, which relates to our focus on sustainability.

Rewilding is a form of ecological restoration where humans step back and allow nature to take its course. Rather than humans managing resources, rewilding is about humans creating the right conditions to let nature take care of itself. It’s about removing dykes and dams to free up rivers, reducing active management of wildlife populations, allowing natural forest regeneration, and reintroducing species that have disappeared due to human actions — and then stepping back to let nature manage itself.

There have been several successful rewilding projects, such as the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, and many other rewilding programs in Europe. By introducing these top predators that on its own cut down the overpopulated deer, beavers and turtles and other small animals came back. The natural dams built by the beavers create spawning beds for salmon and also collect other invertebrates that salmon feed on. These wetland areas created by the dams allow plants, insects, and birds to flourish and further create trickle down effects by revitalizing an incredibly biodiverse ecosystem. From giant tortoises in the Galapagos to beavers in the United Kingdom, rewilding has been relatively successful but takes time.

However, there have also been controversial projects that have met with less success. The Oostvaardersplassen nature reserve in the Netherlands sought to recreate a grassland ecology by reintroducing large herbivores, but the lack of large predators led to an overpopulation of large grazers, like the red deer, which did not have enough resources to survive the winter and were either shot or starved to death. What was supposed to be nonintervention, didn’t stay so and shows how our decisions and actions have a profound effect on the world around us.

The red deer is a reminder that everything on our planet is interconnected — and we are part of the equation.

Nature is our life-support system. When healthy, it can provide us everything—water, clean air, fertile soils, stable climate, food, medicines and materials that sustain us and/or directly underpin our economies. Looking ahead, it is essential that we rebalance our relationship with nature to secure a sustainable future for people and the planet.

We’ve hidden red deer throughout our holiday products — can you spot one?

So…can you find the red deer tucked away in our Christmas packaging? Tag us when you do! What do you think about rewilding and biodiversity? Should humans take a more active role? Or should we let nature do its thing? Share your thoughts with us.

chocolate muffins
Speedy hands gently place an assortment of dark chocolate truffles in their trays at our factory in Blue Lake, CA

At Sjaak’s, we are proud of the community that we continue to build ever since the founder and international chocolatier, Jacques Holten, arrived in Blue Lake. A single “mom & pop” chocolate shop eventually grew into a factory of over 20 employees, and the Sjaak’s family only continues to grow. Jacques’ dedication led to a community that is focused on creating and sharing premium-quality, organic chocolate as a reminder to be kind to ourselves, others and our community.

Being part of the Sjaak’s family naturally makes one an ambassador for ourorganic, vegan chocolate. We chose a few members of our valued team and asked them their thoughts on our Sjaakolates, including which is their favorite chocolate product!

Leo M.

Leo M., Sjaak’s talented Factory Manager, who has dedicated 11 years to creating vegan, organic chocolate and leading the teams in Blue Lake.

In 3 words, describe our chocolate.

Oh… rich, creamy, and mm.. delicious.

Which is your favorite Sjaakolate & why?

My favorite chocolate product for the longest time was our 72% Organic Dark Chocolate Bar. It wasn’t bitter, it wasn’t too sweet, and it always had a really nice texture to it. We used to sell a 72% bar and we are going to be doing a 72% Dark Chocolate Heart. Our 3oz organic chocolate bars are going to be 77% which I think is pretty good.

What makes our vegan chocolate special?

While it may be vegan, it certainly does not have that vegan taste that a lot of people expect. It’s special that it mirrors a lot of conventional chocolate. Another way that it’s special is that it takes old world processes and turns them into new world ideas. It’s what chocolate should be.

Jenn H.

Jenn H., Sjaak’s charismatic, Fulfillment Manager, a valued team player, who has worked at Sjaak’s for over 10 years.

In 3 words, describe our chocolate.

Besides … vegan, organic, & kosher? (laughs) The first 3 words that come to mind are delicious, high-quality, and flavorful!

What’s your favorite Sjaakolate & why?

The Green Tea Lemon Heart is absolutely delicious. It’s definitely more citrus than green tea to me. Personally, I like that. That freshness with the dark chocolate makes it taste kind of refreshing. I really like it though. It’s very creamy and just, so delicious. It will change your life.

What makes our vegan chocolate special?

Our chocolate is special because we have a dairy, soy, gluten, and corn free facility which means that so many people across the board can have our chocolates as a treat. Many parents will reach out to tell me, “Thank you so much for making this chocolate, without you my children would not have any holiday treats.” This always makes my heart swell with pride and gratitude. I’m happy to be a part of so many people’s everyday happiness and joy!

Mel D.

Mel D., one of Sjaak’s Packaging Associates, a vibrant member of the Sjaak’s family who joined the team in September 2019

In 3 words, describe our chocolate.

Creative, rich, & handmade.

What’s your favorite Sjaakolate & why?

It would probably be our Cherry Hearts. It has a creamy texture in the middle. This is probably one of the first chocolates I tried at Sjaak’s and thought to myself, “Wow. That’s really good.” Sometimes we get pieces that can’t be sold, so sometimes I eat them for a snack at work. I tell myself, “It’s time for a Cherry Heart to help me get through the day.” This piece of vegan chocolate is a mood booster for me.

What makes our vegan chocolate special?

The amount of time and love that gets put into it. Whatever new flavors come out, our Factory Manager, Leo, has gone around and got opinions from everyone in the factory. Then he really tries to tweak it to where the taste is good to everyone. Each new recipe has been through every person in the factory, before it’s finalized. As a team, we really want it to taste great. We always try to go for quality.

The Sjaak’s community is a tasty one to be a part of. Read more about how it all started here and we only welcome you to join it. Keep an eye out for our next “Good People, Good Chocolate” series as we feature more members of the Sjaak’s community. Shop and explore over 55 vegan, organic chocolates online, including these recommendations!

It’s back to school season for over 76 million students in the United States. For most, playgrounds and campus life have been replaced with hours of remote learning, Zoom calls and classmates waving eagerly (or awkwardly) through a laptop camera. Affecting everyone from young children to busy parents, angsty teenagers to independent university students, seasoned professors and faculty members – COVID-19 can be an opportunity to find new ways to connect with people that are important to you.

As a family-owned and operated business, we are deeply in tune with how challenging this pandemic is for daily life. Outside of the factory and facility, the Sjaak’s team is a diverse group of parents, families, and students so we are learning how to navigate this new school season with you. We understand that both sides of the laptop camera must do their best to adjust to this new reality. Are there ways to still connect beyond the internet? We think so.

Sending a gift from afar is a thoughtful yet safe way to show someone that you appreciate them. By sending chocolate, you can help create a moment of comfort during these strange and unfamiliar times. Our chocolates are made with organic, non-GMO and plant-based ingredients – perfect for vegans and non-vegans alike. Choose from our crates of small, organic chocolate bites to send to close friends from your class. Shop and order our organic chocolate assortments online for your favorite teacher or fellow coworker. A simple gift can boost morale, increase engagement and make for a sweet start to the school year.

To browse all of our organic, vegan and handmade chocolates – visit our online chocolate shop. By selecting our “Gift” option, we can handwrite your message and deliver your remote and sustainably packaged gift through the United States in less than 7 days. Gifting chocolate can be a reminder we’ll all get through this together.

Heart shaped chocolates and cherries arranged to celebrate Valentine's

Love stories come in all sorts of shapes and sizes — with sunny, funny, messy and magical moments.

Since our Valentine’s products have just landed in our warehouse, I’d like to talk about love. There are so many great love stories out there… from Love Actually (IMHO, also the greatest Christmas movie) to Pride and Prejudice (the BBC version, hands down) to Up (please don’t judge me, it’s that opening sequence!) and so many more that I am ashamed to admit. But there is one special love story that is the story behind our Valentine’s dove.

Can you find the dove placed across all of our Valentine’s products this year?

When Jacques first met the woman that would become his wife, he was living in the Netherlands. He met a beautiful woman, an American exchange student, who was studying abroad in Spain. The story he shared with me was that he met her at a nightclub, the hottest spot in town, with a wall of white doves. And though I’m conjuring such a magical image of a wall of white doves, I know it was much more that had captivated him. Jacques was smitten. “On his way” to accept a job offer running a restaurant in some fancy hotel restaurant/bakery in the Caribbean, he decided to stop and visit this exchange student in California after she had returned home. When he got off the plane in San Francisco and boarded a bus bound for Eureka, he admitted that he had no idea what he was in for. Obviously, he never made it to Aruba to accept that job offer. Our choice of the white dove for our Valentine’s hidden element is an homage to the founder’s love story, what drew him to America, and the family that made him stay and create Sjaak’s Organic Chocolates.

Whether meeting through mutual friends at a birthday party, college sweethearts that graduate into life partners, or online connections that spark into more — people’s love stories are as diverse as people themselves.

And really, the love story is exactly that. It’s the story of it. There is character development and of course, conflict. It’s not the magical finale wedding (although Crazy Rich Asians did have a really magical wedding scene), it’s the long, steady journey before and after. It’s the everyday, the simple, the normal. There are uphill moments and easy downhill strolls. Pretty scenic routes by a glistening bay, and also rough trails through tall, dry brush. It’s the fun and exciting moments, but also the quiet, peaceful ones.

Love comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be heart-melting and romantic, but it is also as sweet and familial as a bear hug. It’s amongst friends, family, and other humans and animals that we share this Earth with. This Valentine’s Day, we celebrate all those connections and moments. And hey, even better, let’s celebrate our journey together with Sjaakolates.