A lecturer who became a chocolatier in her sixties

Personal finance

A lecturer who became a chocolatier in her sixties


Lucy Grace, founder of Grace Chocolaterie, a Kenyan chocolate company located at Keraropon Shell Service Station, Ngong Road. PICTURES | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG

Summary

  • Her company, Grace Chocolaterie, wants to change the way Kenyans view and enjoy chocolate.
  • During her baking lesson, their instructor took them to a chocolatier.
  • With an investment of several million, the entrepreneur bought his first batch of cocoa beans from Tanzania and a machine and started producing chocolate manually.

Lucy Katiba Grace didn’t grow up wanting to be a chocolatier.

She spent 35 years working as a lecturer, teaching English and French at a hospitality university in Switzerland. But after her husband convinced her to return to Kenya, she had to find something exciting and challenging to do.

This is how Lucy found herself in the chocolate industry. Her company, Grace Chocolaterie, wants to change the way Kenyans view and enjoy chocolate.

His journey, however, was anything but simple.

“My husband, David Grace, wanted to open a cafe. Instantly I thought, ‘What would go well with coffee?’ Lucy tells me in her shop at Shell Station, Kerarapon in Nairobi.

The air is filled with activity as her staff prepares Mother’s Day orders. She learned to make pastries and bread from professionals in France.

During her baking lesson, their instructor took them to a chocolatier. On the other side of the glass, she saw the chocolate being made.

The aroma made its way to him, reminding him of the time spent tasting chocolate in Switzerland: the smell of cocoa beans, the invitation to taste, eat, dream and love chocolate.

“I just had to learn the trade. I enrolled in a workshop in Belgium, where I studied everything there is to know about chocolate making,” says the company’s founder.

Why does Belgium live in the capital of chocolates?

“Switzerland invented milk chocolate but I chose Belgium because being the Mecca of dark chocolate, I will learn more. Now I have the best of both worlds. In 2019, the mother of three returned to Kenya.

With an investment of millions, the entrepreneur purchased her first batch of cocoa beans from Tanzania and a machine and began producing chocolate manually, as opposed to the machines she had studied with.

Her first products were pralines (a French confectionery that is a cooked mixture of sugar, nuts and vanilla) which she sold to her friends and family.

Along the way, she realized that Kenyans love chocolate bars and pivoted on that. But first, she had to overcome the challenge of the Kenyan climate.

“Chocolate is very sensitive to temperature. My classes were in cool months and in a much cooler environment. But here in Kenya it is hot. The first time I made chocolate, it didn’t set. I was so stressed,” she recalls.

“But I kept going and over time I got the right temperature.”

Having its origins in their home kitchen in Nairobi, working with her husband and sister, the business now employs seven people who turn cocoa paste, the unsweetened soul of chocolate, into sweet chocolate bars. They do white, milk, dark and caramel.

Three years later, they have moved from selling to individuals in organic markets to selling their products in various retail outlets in Nairobi, Nanyuki, Nakuru and Mombasa.

“The response has been beyond amazing. People love chocolates and are happy to eat and support ‘Made in Kenya’ chocolate.

The most popular are sea salt and caramel flavors. They incorporate ready-to-use cooking ingredients such as chili, ginger, sesame seeds, cucumber, and dried berries, among others.

It also offers “bean to bar” chocolate made from just two ingredients: cocoa beans and sugar.

Grace Chocolaterie uses 80% cocoa mass from Uganda because it is organic, and cocoa beans from Tanzania.

“Unfortunately, we have to import many raw materials like sea salt, dried raspberries and strawberries,” she notes.

For this reason, they can only make 10 kilos of chocolate per day.

A career at 60

Despite these unsavory chunks of her journey, at 60, Lucy has found something to do for many years to come. Something she loves to do and excites her soul.

Her children are so proud because they see her doing and excelling in something she has never done before.

What are his big dreams for the three-year-old company?

“In Switzerland, I lived in a small town called Neuchâtel. I had a favorite chocolate shop located next to the market.

“One of the things I loved about this shop was the way I walked in and was struck by all these beautiful blends of different flavors of white, milk, dark and caramel chocolates floating around in the I’m not a sweet tooth but I would walk in to buy a chocolate and end up buying more.

“I want to create such an experience for our customers. To also present pralines to Kenyans. It would be a wonderful environment for me to work because I make pralines with a ganache that speaks to you,” she says.

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