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.
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.
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by Nicha Leaser, CEO