Stateside Podcast: Chocolate with a purpose
Dale Anderson’s chocolatier career started from a pun.
After working as a counselor with the Kalamazoo County juvenile court system, he knew first hand the barriers his clients faced in engaging with the legal economy. He harbored a dream to start his own above board business that would hire young people who were caught up in the justice system. After a failed attempt to start a solar panel installation company, a new idea emerged. One Valentine’s Day a name for a business popped into his head: Confections with Convictions.
“Actually, it should have been ‘confections with adjudications,’ but that doesn't … roll off the tongue quite as well,” Anderson said. “So it's just a dumb joke. But it's stuck in the back of my head. And a couple of months later I started thinking it had possibilities.”
Kalamazoo at the time was scant on handmade chocolate shops. And in this absence, Anderson saw an opportunity.
Confections with Convictions opened in 2010, employing young people with criminal records or entanglements with the justice system, while serving decadent dipped treats.
The bright display cases at the front of the shop brim with plates of artfully decorated truffles and caramels. Shelves are lined with bars of chocolate, dipped fruits, and chocolate barks embedded with Michigan cherries and candied ginger.
“There are quite a few choices. We did have an economist in here a couple of years ago that said our case was the perfect example of an economic theory called ‘the tyranny of choice,’” Anderson said.
Working with chocolate is a finicky process. For crisp chocolate with a sheen and smooth mouthfeel, Anderson said, the chocolate needs to be tempered.
“You've probably had before a chocolate bar you left in a cupboard or on the dashboard or something that turned hazy and gray looking,” Anderson explained. “That's chocolate that's gone out of temper, and usually that has a chalkier mouth feel. If you want a nice, crisp, snappy, shiny chocolate, you have to temper it.”
But the process of making chocolate treats is also part of the process of healing for the employees.
A place for healing
Jennifer Fakkety worked as an employee of the shop for three years, and is now the new owner of the enterprise. As a person in recovery for the past nine and a half years, she said that Confections with Convictions has been an important part of her healing.
“It's a safe place to come to slow down,” Fakkety reflected. “You can get out of fight or flight and just kind of be calm and catch up with yourself.”
Fakkety said that there are times when she witnesses the healing process happening in real time for some of the employees at the shop. On one occasion she saw two women side-by-side hand-working chocolate while exchanging their personal stories.
“I'm like, ‘Dale it’s happening right now,’ Fakkety recalled. “I just saw it. The healing. It's the dream that I've had in my head. It's happening right in front of me right now.”
Anderson and the Confections with Convictions team pride themselves on the quality of their sweets, but beyond the taste, at its core, the shop honors its mission to employ “people who are overcoming barriers and making new beginnings.”
Just like any workplace, the people who work at Confections with Convictions come in with their own struggles with family, money, and mental health. But what sets the chocolate shop apart, is that those struggles aren’t swept under the rug, they’re acknowledged, and at times, dealt with head on. It makes working feel a lot less like work.
“Sometimes I just get here in the morning, I'm like, ‘guess what? We get to do it again today,’” Fakkety said. “Or it'll be a Tuesday and I'm like, ‘it's the beginning of the week, we get to be here all week.”
Listen to the Stateside podcast to hear the full interview.