Happy 10-year anniversary to us!
After a full decade of making delicious desserts, Living Lotus Chocolate has blossomed (pun intended) into something beyond what we ever could have dreamed.
It’s been ten years of recipe testing, product development, wearing all the hats, and a LOT of chocolate making. Our small business has had quite the journey, but we still stand mighty! We are so proud of where we come from and can’t wait for what’s next.
Keeping reading to take a peek behind the curtain of our journey to making health sweet:
The start of Living Lotus was conceived over a decade ago during April of 2012, in Maui, Hawaii. I had booked a one way ticket with friends because I wanted to study botany while I was there. The course was online, during a time before online learning was ‘a thing’.
At the time, I was working in film in the costume department (the love of creating things with fabric still hasn’t escaped me). We were on hiatus from working on a TV show and didn’t know if the show would get picked up for another season. An impromptu tropical vacation with no definitive end date sounded like the perfect idea.
During the day I would study botany, and at night we would cook fabulous meals. Quite often we’d drive with our dinner on plates, carrying plastic wine glasses to Ho’okipa overlooking the waves. Our property was surrounded by mango and avocado trees. We had barbecues and ate fresh food every night. This enhanced my knowledge of raw food preparation. It just made sense in that tropical weather. Back in 2005, I had received Pure Food by Matthew Kenney and Sarma Melngailis, a raw food “cook” book. It wasn’t until 2007 that I started utilizing it due to many dietary restrictions.
Before we left Maui I had already decided that I would be signing up for raw food culinary and nutrition school after a Skype meeting with the instructor. Once we were back home in Vancouver the plan was to finish the TV show and start school the next year. Oh, and the botany course? My laptop suffered from a fatal green smoothie pour, and I never was able to finish. (Oops!)
Back to School
In March 2013, school started. When it comes to raw food, the ‘cooking’ ends up being more of a science class, slowly crafting each dish to preserve its nutritional value and infusing it with flavour. It was so fun to learn with a group of people that loved this way of eating and wanted to educate others on it.
As the course came to a close, the dessert module stuck out as my favourite part of class. School ended on March 25th, and my foodsafe course and exploratory meeting with Vancouver Coastal Health was booked for the next day.
What is an exploratory meeting with Vancouver Coastal Health? It doesn’t really exist. I knew I wanted to work in food, and thought it would be nice to learn the rules. At this meeting I asked questions like, “What do I have to do if I wanted to open a vegan ice cream shop?” (completely random, but I wanted to know the answer. The answer, at that time, was I would have to be connected to a dairy!) So this meeting had no focus, but it was still very helpful.
Living Lotus. What is in a name?
Although I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do exactly, I’ve always had a sweet tooth and enjoyed making desserts that were also good (or, at least better) for you (this was probably the best bet to trick people to eat healthier). I thought that teaching workshops might be fun, and even the thought of becoming a private chef crossed my mind, but whatever I decided to do, I knew I needed a name.
“Living Lotus” popped into my head. I thought of the name long before I was going to school. “I’m going to start a company and it’s going to be called ‘Living Lotus’”, I thought.
People always ask me why I chose that name, and although I wish there was some inspiring story attached to the decision – it just simply felt right!
In the end, my sweet tooth won, and Living Lotus was born as a dessert company. A gluten-free, vegan, refined sugar-free, clean ingredient dessert company. I had also wanted to teach workshops, so that people could be empowered with the knowledge to make healthier decisions. My first piece of equipment was a $100 food processor, bought from a stranger on Criagslist. It’s hard to believe that 4 years later I bought a 20 quart commercial Hobart mixer, which is almost the same height as me!
Making the Macaroon
In the beginning, there was plenty of recipe testing and recipe tasting. I would often make desserts for friends, quiz them about the flavours and textures, and use their feedback to perfect the recipe with each batch.
Eventually, our first product was born: the Macaroon. These were tested and tested (one test tasted like cocktail bun filling!) and I used an ice cream scoop to make them. Down the road, I had silicone molds made to make the process easier.
Living Lotus started gaining speed, fast. By April and May, 2013, I had enrolled in a small business program where I learned about incorporation, wrote a business plan, and created a logo and brand identity for my company. I also had my first photoshoot. After all my years of being in the film industry, it felt funny to be the one in the makeup chair and in front of the camera.
Photo credit (both): Leigh Righton
My First Markets
In June of that same year I had my own Living Lotus booth at my first market. I had helped organize the first Mini Maker Faire in 2011, and it felt right to have that event be my market debut. To get ready for the event, friends helped me package hundreds of macaroons, and set up my table on the day of. Looking back, it’s crazy that we only had one product offering. I didn’t even know about offering samples. Living Lotus – a macaroon company.
A couple of months later, I was a vendor at my first farmer’s market in Dundarave, West Vancouver. We would never have this much breakable glass on the table now! We had macaroons, and raw brownies.
Around this same time is also when I rented my first commercial kitchen and started ordering ingredients in bulk. Below you can see the first 25lb bag of organic shredded coconut I ordered.
In July 2013, I hosted my first dessert workshop called “Desserts The Right Way”. I remember tirelessly looking for a location to facilitate these workshops.
Developing the Ganache
By November, I was enrolled back in school for a chocolate and cheese class at Matthew Kenney Culinary in Los Angeles. I was also taking a sports nutrition course online, and I was recipe testing for what was soon to be my most popular product yet – chocolate ganache. It’s apparent that I can’t do just one thing at a time. This is great training to be a business owner.
In February of 2014, I entered a small business competition through Enactus at BCIT, The Lion’s Lair. Each team was partnered with students to develop a pitch and business plan.
It was my first pitch, and with the help of Karly and Caitlin, I won! I remembered the judges giggling about my very precise numbers to the cents. I carefully planned out how I would use the prize money to help build our own commercial kitchen in the following year.
At this point, I had finalized the chocolate ganache recipe and I was ready to offer it to shops for wholesale orders. Looking back, it’s crazy that I would make each one of these little rounds individually! My neighbours would poke their heads into our space and ask if we were even making a profit off of these products because of the time it took to make them all. They were definitely made with love!
As Summer came closer, our first Vancouver retailer, Victoria’s Health, a store on Hornby street in downtown Vancouver, had picked us up. I grew up a block away from the original Victoria’s Health in North Vancouver, and so I was delighted when they agreed to stock our product. I didn’t yet have packaging for the ganache or brownies, so they let me use their plastic containers, which I labelled.
Growing the Business (and Team)
As 2015 came around, the commercial kitchen was well under way! Built from scratch, I got to decide exactly where each piece of equipment went. When the build was done, we were still such a small company that we didn’t even have enough extra stock to fill one shelf in the commercial fridge. I would rent the kitchen out to other small food producers (Tubify and Oollo Tea), It was a fun time back then!
I also hired my first employees, which was a big jump from being a one woman show.
Fast forward to January of 2017 and we hosted our first chocolate making workshop in our own space. This led to many more workshops in our chocolate studio to come.
In the spring, I was also invited to be a tasting partner as part of the TED2017 The Future You event.
The Bean to Bar Chocolate was Born
Fast forward again to July of 2019, and I was deep in the recipe-testing phase of the delicious bean to bar chocolate that many of you have come to know.
By the end of 2019, we soft launched a test batch of bean to bar chocolate at a holiday market at Kind Cafe. After lots of chocolate making, I finally felt like I had a product that you would love. But, I had a problem. Our best selling product at the time – the ganache – was very labour intensive to make. Over the few years prior I had slowly built up a list of wholesale vendors who stocked and sold our ganache in their stores. But, while I was hopeful that we would be able to introduce our new bean to bar chocolate and also keep the ganache on the roster, I soon realized that it would be impossible to scale one and build the bean to bar at the same time.
So, I decided to take the plunge!
Although I had made bean to bar chocolate before, including teaching the techniques in chocolate making workshops, developing a consistent, delicious product with only clean ingredients was tricky. Working with new equipment, different ingredients, new temperature controls methods – it was a completely different ballgame. It also doesn’t help that I’m a bit of a perfectionist! Let’s not even mention fixing the equipment.
Photo credit (both): Cillematography
January of 2020 was the official launch of our bean to bar chocolate. I had let go of my staff knowing I couldn’t scale both and really wanted to concentrate on the chocolate. I started with two Ecuadorian bars: the 70% Arriba Nacional dark chocolate bar, the 57% Arriba Nacional oat milk chocolate bar. We also introduced the blonde chocolate bar (our version of vegan white chocolate).
Photo credit: Leigh Righton
Photo credit: Andrea Marvin
And…then the pandemic hit.
Amongst the uncertainty and vast changes that were occurring, we weren’t sure how we would be able to pivot, especially given the unprecedented state of the world.
But we didn’t give up! Easter 2020 was the first holiday during the pandemic, and we wanted to continue giving our community tiny glimmers of hope in chocolate form. As much as we could, we tried to move forward with business ‘as usual’.
When we first started selling the chocolate, it was in a clear plastic sleeve with a sticker on top. Our chocolate mold adorned each finger bar with delicate hummingbirds and flowers. We get so much appreciation for the look of our finger bars. My thinking behind this is that the chocolate has to go in a mold, why can’t it be a pretty one? After all, we eat with our eyes first. As we went along, I wanted beautiful packaging that matched.
Photo credit: Leigh Righton
Photo credit: Leigh Righton
Lisa from Canzila Creative designed the amazing packaging that pairs so well with our finger bars. It was so much fun to work together and see our vision come to life. We created packaging that was almost too beautiful to rip open, but also provided a good user experience. Everyone loves to tear something perforated even if they don’t even know it.
Photo credit: Leigh Righton
That fall we launched our chocolate advent calendars, which turned out to be a hit and very quickly sold out. In fact, we had originally planned to only make 50 calendars, but due to the popularity, we implemented a waiting list and ended up pulling many long nights in the chocolate studio to stock up.
Come April 2021, we were back in the groove of chocolate making and saw how much our customers loved holiday-themed treats. So we put our thinking caps on and developed what was soon to be one of our most popular products yet: Vegan Creme Eggs.
The first year we launched these, we sold out so fast that we didn’t even have time to make more. In 2022, we planned ahead with a pre-order and more than doubled the amount we made. And still – we could barely keep them in stock.
By the time April 2022 was over, we had used 6 lbs of Cacao Butter, 10 lbs of Hazelnuts, 11 lbs of Cashews, 21 lbs of Coconut and 45 lbs of Chocolate – just for our Easter products alone! This year wasn’t any different, as we are still getting requests for creme eggs even in June.
Photo credit (all): Leigh Righton
We quickly went from slinging ganache samples to giving mini chocolate tasting lessons to everyone we met. We have always used high quality, ethically sourced cacao beans, and it was so fun to walk each customer through the aromas, tasting notes, and textures of our bars.
10 Years of Living Lotus
Now, in June of 2023, we celebrate 10 years in business. Time has flown by!
If you’ve ever chatted with me about chocolate, you’ll know that this journey hasn’t been without its ups and downs. There are certainly still long tough days, but the efforts I put into Living Lotus are truly fuelled by passion.
I believe that a big part of being a small business owner is about showing up. Show up each day and sign up for the course, take the risk, ask the questions, and be present in your community. If it doesn’t work, you’ve learned something valuable. If it does work, you still learn something of value.
I also think investing in yourself is SO important, but it can be just as important to invest in the people around you who are cheering you on.
The hundreds of friends, colleagues, and customers I’ve met over the last 10 years are who MADE Living Lotus what it is today.
I’ll always be cheering on anyone who has even the seed of an idea to start something. Living Lotus started as a thought in my head, and if I can do it, you definitely can. I’m your biggest cheerleader.
When I step into the chocolate studio and see how far we’ve come in a decade of hard work, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. Despite the disappointments and failures, there have still been so many pleasant surprises and successes while on this rollercoaster. Everything I’ve faced has definitely been worth it.
I hope that our treats will continue to inspire and delight the chocolate lovers who, like us, seek joy through the decadence of chocolate.