My Day with the Chocolatier

Emily Letterman, Features Editor

Shawn Askinosie is much more than just a chocolate maker.

As a lover of all things chocolate, I expected to taste some of Shawn’s work as I followed him May 5 for Springfield Business Journal’s annual Day in the Life series. What I didn’t expect was his level of commitment.

During a weekly production meeting, I listened as Shawn and crew analyzed every tiny detail of the bar, from color to sheen to molding.

“You don’t sell chocolate to Austria by being easy on yourself,” he turned to me and said, referencing a bulk order we discussed earlier.

Springfield-based Askinosie Chocolate is sending a pallet of its finest to a shop in Austria, one of a handful of European countries known for its chocolate excellence.

“When we got that order, it was like, ‘Take that Europe!’” Shawn said, pumping his fist in the air. “That’s not something that happens every day.”

That level of commitment to detail by everyone on staff also has led to inclusion in Target’s Made to Matter project. This fall, Askinosie Chocolate will be sold at 400 Target retailers nationwide.

It could be argued Shawn’s attention to detail is a holdover from his days as a criminal defense attorney. The smallest detail can make or break a case. Or maybe he’s a perfectionist. In either case, no bar of chocolate leaves that factory until it’s perfect.

The strategy seems to be working. Sales continue to climb, word of mouth continues to spread and the awards continue to roll in.

Reporter’s Notebook
A day in the life of a Springfield entrepreneur is filled with too much to fit on one printed news page. Little tidbits of insight get left on the cutting room floor, such as making sure you “cross at the hump.” Part of a safety tutorial during the morning huddle, when crossing Commercial Street to the new offices down the road, always cross at the hump, aka the small peninsula of land outside the factory front door.

Discussions on “summer shipping,” which ensures the chocolate doesn’t melt in a hot box truck; his attire, which almost always consists of a denim button-up shirt, jeans and brown boots; and a phone call with a young Canadian lawyer looking for advice on a career change pepper Shawn’s day.

As always, I had my iPhone at the ready to capture each moment. If a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s another couple grand that didn’t make print.

floor

The first picture of the day. Here we go.

During the morning huddle, a lady began peering in the window. Shawn quickly unlocked the door, greeted her warmly and offered her some chocolate samples. I got the impression many Commercial Street residents wander into the factory.

During the morning huddle, a lady began peering in the window. Shawn quickly unlocked the door, greeted her warmly and offered her some chocolate samples. I got the impression many Commercial Street residents wander into the factory.

The huddle isn’t complete without some group stretching. SBJ photographer Wes Hamilton captured the moment.

The huddle isn’t complete without some group stretching. SBJ photographer Wes Hamilton captured the moment.

I’ve eaten my fair share of chocolate, but I’ve never thought to describe it as tasting like leather or forest. This handy cheat sheet helped isolate flavor profiles during the weekly quality meeting.

I’ve eaten my fair share of chocolate, but I’ve never thought to describe it as tasting like leather or forest. This handy cheat sheet helped isolate flavor profiles during the weekly quality meeting.

This series of posters hung in the factory.

This series of posters hung in the factory.

I’m not sure who was more excited about the visit to Boyd Elementary for Chocolate University, Shawn or the students. He gave them frozen custard, they told him about their aquaponics projects.

I’m not sure who was more excited about the visit to Boyd Elementary for Chocolate University, Shawn or the students. He gave them frozen custard, they told him about their aquaponics projects.

Wes snapped this pic of our crew leaving the school.

Wes snapped this pic of our crew leaving the school.

Back at the office after lunch, Shawn sits in on a conference call. He tells me the company recently got a new phone system and he’s “still learning all the new buttons.”

Back at the office after lunch, Shawn sits in on a conference call. He tells me the company recently got a new phone system and he’s “still learning all the new buttons.”

Out of the frying pan and into the fire. Wes captured a rare moment of quiet interview time. Most of the day was spent walking and talking.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire. Wes captured a rare moment of quiet interview time. Most of the day was spent walking and talking.

Looking around the factory later in the day, I spotted the old phone bank.

Looking around the factory later in the day, I spotted the old phone bank.

Having never meditated before, I found the afternoon session very soothing. I can see why employees like it.

Having never meditated before, I found the afternoon session very soothing. I can see why employees like it.

Most meetings during the day were conducted with charts and graphs via an iPhone plugged into a television. So handy. Here, Shawn’s assistant Sarah VandaVeer talks about corporate gifts.

Most meetings during the day were conducted with charts and graphs via an iPhone plugged into a television. So handy. Here, Shawn’s assistant Sarah VandaVeer talks about corporate gifts.

If you want to see the chocolate, you have to wear a hairnet. #stylin

If you want to see the chocolate, you have to wear a hairnet. #stylin

Wes captured the hairnet in action as we checked on the 250-kilogram chocolate storage tank.

Wes captured the hairnet in action as we checked on the 250-kilogram chocolate storage tank.

Check out this barrel of freshly roasted cocoa nibs, the same Shawn uses in his breakfast smoothie each morning. The handful I ate was still warm.

Check out this barrel of freshly roasted cocoa nibs, the same Shawn uses in his breakfast smoothie each morning. The handful I ate was still warm.

Sometimes I was part of the action and sometimes, I sat on the comfy couch in the corner while he took care of business. A Lost & Found Grief Center board meeting at Mercy Hospital Springfield capped the day.

Sometimes I was part of the action and sometimes, I sat on the comfy couch in the corner while he took care of business. A Lost & Found Grief Center board meeting at Mercy Hospital Springfield capped the day.

I couldn’t let the day end without a selfie. Thanks for showing me your factory Shawn.

I couldn’t let the day end without a selfie. Thanks for showing me your factory Shawn.

To read more about the day, check out the full article and browse more of Wes’ professional photos in the featured gallery. Also, new this year, and already a staff favorite, take a gander at a short documentary of the day.

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