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Two guys start a chocolate business with no experience in chocolate-making. And...it works

This isn't your average chocolatier. Joe Chocolates is breaking the chocolate mold - literally, combining two Northwest favorites, silky smooth premium dark chocolate and high-quality espresso.

"Joe Chocolates is a product for the final push in any sense of the word," said co-founder Sam Tanner. "That's what our chocolate is for, to help people accomplish what they're trying to do without compromising any sort of ingredients or any sort of energy. Just coffee and dark chocolate."

These kicked up confections are the brainchild of Tanner and Peter Keckemet, two buddies who started the business when they were still students at the University of Washington. Their goal at the time? To give another buddy a boost.

"One of our good friends, Lucas, had taken off on the Pacific Crest Trail, about 2,650, 2,700 miles up the coast from the Mexico/California border all the way up through Canada," explained Tanner. "Everything that he was eating was mashed potatoes, PowerBars and other bars, and we wanted to have something that was totally different. So we figured a little bit of coffee and a little bit of chocolate would go a long way for a guy who was walking 12-14 hours a day."

Lucas wasn't the only one who loved it. The chocolate was a hit with all his buddies on the trail. But to build a business they needed to learn the art of chocolate-making. Neither had formal training, so they did what any self-respecting twenty-somethings would.

"Lots of Google," said Keckemet with a laugh. "YouTube."

"A lot of mentors. We had a lot of people we were able to lean on. We're really lucky Seattle has such a [great] chocolate-making industry and people are so open to offer help," added Tanner.

Those mentors helped Tanner and Keckemet refine their skills, but ultimately their friendship is the biggest reason the chocolates is flourishing.

"It's a lot of fun working with Sam," said Keckemet. "I think you should start a business with someone you're friends with or get along with on a personal level. I think it just makes you more effective business leaders."

"When it came to the warning 'oh you shouldn't work with a friend', we thought 'oh, but it seems fun'," added Tanner. "And so far, so good. I love working with Peter."

Now they've got a team working with them too, turning out five different staple flavors, including their bestseller, salted caramel. Firs the chocolate is tempered in a special machine. Then molten, liquid chocolate goes into a bowl along with espresso grounds and chunks of homemade salted caramel. It's mixed together to make sure everything is evenly-distributed and poured onto a sheet pan. The three-and-a-half pound slabs are sprinkled with sugar and a little bit of salt, given time to set, then broken in chunks and bagged by hand.

Soon everyone will have the chance to watch the process first-hand. In Spring of 2019, Tanner and Keckemet are planning to open Joe Chocolates flagship factory and cafe in Pike Place Market.

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