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 The Sweet Life

UMD Alumnus Brian Pelletier:
A Passion for Chocolate

UMD alumnus Brian Pelletier (‘89), who graduated with a degree in technical communication, enjoyed considerable success in public relations, journalism, and marketing. Yet after 20 years in the communication industry, Pelletier, who lives in St. Louis, Missouri, began to feel restless. “I was ready for a change,” he recalled.

Brian Pelletier
Brian Pelletier, owner and chief chocolatier, of Kakao Chocolate.
Kakao chocolate
Kakao products are all-natural and made by hand.

But he wasn’t immediately sure in what direction he should go. “I knew I wanted to work for myself, something I had done before when I owned a small marketing agency in Chicago,” Pelletier said. “I also wanted to make something with my hands, probably food – I love to cook.” It was then that life took a delicious turn.

Pelletier was at a party when a friend announced that she was selling her business, Kakao Chocolate. Pelletier didn’t know anything about chocolate, but the opportunity sounded too good to pass up. So he bought the name and the equipment and enlisted his friend to teach him everything she knew about creating chocolate.

In just two years, Pelletier has built an extremely successful business. “We’ve carved out a very exciting niche,” Pelletier proudly said. All of Kakao's products are made using only the finest all-natural ingredients, with no artificial flavors or colors. Everything is made at the shop in small batches. He uses his marketing and communication expertise to reach out to customers - blogging on Kakao's website about new products and events.

Pelletier works to make customer service a priority. “It’s about making customers happy – which is easy to do with top-quality confections,” he noted. He engages his customers to learn what flavors they love and to ensure that his creations satisfy their cravings. As a result, Kakao has a passionate following. In July, Kakao was named Favorite Chocolatier by readers of Sauce, the St. Louis food magazine. The year before, they weren't even on the list. “That was very exciting and a great honor,” Pelletier said.

Kakao storefront
Kakao Chocolate shop in St. Louis, Missouri
Kakao shop interior
The interior of Kaka Chocolate

Pelletier minored in physics and mathematics at UMD. He enjoys the scientific elements involved in making chocolate. “A lot of what happens with chocolate happens on a molecular level,” Pelletier noted. “Chocolate is very complex.” And while Pelletier enjoys creating new flavor combinations, he is quick to point out that ultimately “the customers decide if something is successful.”

Pelletier believes that one of the most important things he gained from his time at UMD was to learn to be curious. “I learned to ask why something works one way and to think about how I could change it, to take something familiar and make it new.” This kind of thinking served him well recently as he prepared a chocolate table for a bride and groom who didn’t want a traditional cake. They wanted chocolate in an Earl Grey-lavender combination. Kakao had produced chocolates in both flavors, “but we had to put some effort into combining the flavors,” Pelletier noted. Science and creativity merged, and a new flavor combination was born – to the delight of the bride, groom, and wedding guests.

Pelletier is excited about the future of Kakao Chocolate. He will soon be adding a fifth employee, and he is considering expanding to a second location. He has been talking to Whole Foods about carrying his creations in select stores. He’s thrilled that he has found his bliss. “It took 20 years to find my passion or for my passion to find me. Everything before that has led up to this point,” Pelletier said. In short, life is sweet.

Written by Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann,

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Last modified on 04/22/11 02:37 PM
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