What made Jessica Spauling fall in love with chocolate was that you can tell where it’s from.
Growing up in Harlem, chocolate was one of the few sweets her mother would let her have. Not surprisingly, she quickly became a devoted fan of all things cocoa. Soon, she was learning how to create her own bars, and her mother began taking her to the big annual NYC chocolate shows to further develop her interest.
“You could taste chocolate from around the world [at these shows],” she says. “What I loved about it was that it had so many things that let you know which culture that chocolate came from—whether it was Japan or India.”
When she started her own company in 2015, she asked herself a simple question: What story did she want to tell with her chocolate? She says she decided to tell the only one she knows: the story of her birth place. That’s how Harlem Chocolate Factory was born.
Along with co-founder Asha Dixon, Spaulding started the company in her literal living room, wrapping chocolate bars on weekends to prepare them for local markets and events. Three years later, in 2019, they opened a brick-and-mortar retail and production kitchen in the historic Striver’s Row section of Harlem, turning out chocolate bars, bon bons, truffles and more inspired by the surrounding neighborhood. The idea of Harlem isn’t just in the company’s name, it infuses the look, feel and taste of their delicious treats.
“Our bonbon collections are based on my experiences growing up in Harlem,” says Spaulding. “It’s in the way you experience the flavor—not only the look, but the taste of it. There’s one called the Bodega Dreams with cocoa, cola caramel and potato chips, and we have the Across 110th St, which is based on the movie I grew up watching with my mom.”
Like all small businesses in NYC, the last year has been a wild ride for Spaulding and Dixon (or “the roller of all roller coasters,” as Spaulding puts it) but they’ve had an even crazier 12 months than most. After months of dealing with low government funding and grant applications, they were finally able to secure a life-changing grant from none other than Beyoncé through her BeyGood, Black-owned small business impact fund.
“It really saved us,” she says. “We were then able to reopen. After that we got onto Oprah’s Favorite Things list, and it’s just been life-changing from there. It’s been a whirlwind.”
The sweet item that landed them on Oprah’s list? Their stunning gift set of Golden Brownstone chocolate bars—bars that are inspired less by a specific place in the neighborhood than by Spaulding’s idea of a perfect one.
“My mother’s an artist, and she designed this bar. The brownstones of Harlem are different based on the area they’re in; the ones in lower Harlem look different than the ones in Sugar Hill. Growing up, I always wanted to live in one, so we created our dream Harlem brownstone, using details from all over the neighborhood, and turned it into a chocolate bar.”
Harlem Chocolate Factory is currently open for in-person shopping at 2363 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd Friday through Sunday from 12pm to 5pm. Items are also available for purchase online.
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