Live On Chocolate
My name is Stacey Burgess, owner of Live On Chocolate Ltd. I was born and raised in Toronto by my Grandmother, who was a major influence in my life, and I am forever grateful to have had her. Growing up we always had sweets in the house. When I was 9 years old, she retired and we moved to a small fishing village on Lake Erie (Port Dover, ON) where she and her two sisters opened up a chocolate gift store on the front porch of our house! It was a kid’s dream come true! We ran a ‘truffle tab’ for the late night sweet attacks enjoyed throughout the week.
The demand for their products grew so much that they took over an Old English Tea Room/Restaurant, where the locals became regulars. My Grandmother’s work ethic was so very strong – she worked (in her retirement) up until she was 70yrs old at the restaurant – I know this where my drive stems from.
After spending 2yrs at Mohawk College for Graphic Design, I moved back to Toronto to attend OCAD(U) and received my Bachelor in Design, majoring in Illustration. I loved being creative, and figured that I would be a children’s book illustrator. It was during my second year at OCAD(U) where I learned about vegetarians and vegans. I never thought about life without cheese! But as I learned more and more about the health benefits of eating a plant based diet, I switched within a week. For somebody who grew up in the business of chocolate and sweets, I was faced with a challenge – what will I eat now that I don’t eat that way anymore?
A couple of vegan potlucks later with my new found vegan friends, I decided that I wanted to create something that I loved as a child, chocolate cake – raw vegan style of course and I unleashed it on these unsuspecting vegans. To my surprise, everybody loved it and was asking “who made this?” It sparked the desire to apply for a job at the premier, organic plant based restaurant, one of the first in Toronto at the time – and we created magic! It was here that I established myself as their dessert chef. People knew my name, and I would create desserts for them by request. My desserts were so popular they would sell out each day. Some of the regulars went crazy for them and would order entire cakes just for themselves to take home and enjoy.
I was at the restaurant for 4yrs, when I knew I wanted to learn more about the classical and traditional preparation of desserts. I took a job working in two different non-vegan pastry shops, in order to gain the knowledge of high volume production and scaling, as well as dessert presentation and packaging. And most importantly to fuse this into my raw vegan brain.
It was during that time when I started making chocolate for friends. I had also kept in touch with a customer from the restaurant I worked at. She is from Pennsylvania and would call me with personal orders. She would mail her favourite organic raw cacao powder for me to use in the recipes. Rushing around my apartment kitchen, I would create a few dozen different chocolates and ship them back to her. It was thanks to her orders that I was able to afford my very first 100lb bag of cacao, which were the seeds for my future company.
She inspired me to ask my employer if I could use the kitchen after hours. I began creating and selling my ‘little treats’ to about 3 cafes, delivering each order by bicycle. Word got around about my Organic, Fair Trade Raw Vegan Chocolate and they were constantly selling out. And before I knew it I got my first big account – The Big Carrot on the Danforth. So I splurged on a used bike trailer to make my future deliveries! I would produce my orders for them after a long day at my day job, and then deliver it to them first thing in the morning, before going back to my second job just to make it work. But this is where my dilemma started. I was exhausted. How would I grow my business from 3 cafes and the demands of my new account to storefronts throughout the GTA?
So like everyone I approached several different banks with a small business plan and a big idea. I learnt quickly they were not interested in vegan businesses. With OSAP loans and bad credit my back was against the wall. I was defeated at this point. I even had an investor friend who was not interested, it seemed that nobody was interested in helping out some silly little vegan.
But I did have friends. And they were interested in my desserts, and suggested that I participate in Veggie Food Fairs across the city. My first show was a bust. I worked day and night and I failed. I produced $10k worth of product to sell, and only sold $800, but I did connect with a new store. This was my second biggest account. I kept pushing ahead and was able to sell all of the product between my 5 stores. And it inspired me to keep going.
Weeks after that show, I began a new search. Me and my bike travelled all over the GTA knocking on every like minded storefront I could think of. Within months I added 5-6 new accounts. I was ready to take another risk and left my day job at the bakery.
I’m not sure how this happened, maybe it was the shows, maybe it was talk around the town, but stores started calling me! The first one was a large chain of 9 stores, scattered throughout Southern Ontario. I was faced with my second dilemma. I knew my bike and I were not able to deliver, so I came up with a harebrained scheme and hired my friend and his car to deliver all over the countryside.
I knew it was time, I could finally quit my part time job and expand. I searched for a kitchen space, and realized that this was an expense I could not afford. Still having no financial backing, and nobody to help me out, I ran into my third dilemma. Where could I find a kitchen within this tiny budget? It was clear, there were no kitchens, but I could afford a 300 square foot basement apartment in an old bank on the Danforth. I mustered up the money to bring in the local handyman and bring this basement apt. up to commercial kitchen code. I know that kitchen well. Sometimes it felt as though I lived there.
That was 2014. Today in this tiny basement apartment – now kitchen, me and my bike have grown this business to $150k and supplying 30 stores across the GTA and Southern Ontario. Of course I don’t ride it anymore as I have a delivery chain to service my stores. Not only are stores calling me, but I have investors calling me too. The most recent being a very large domestic company interested in buying me out.
Today I make puddings that I call Power Puddings in an assortment of flavours including Chocolate Cashew, Raspberry, Caramel Mocha, Coconut Lime, and Chocolate Avocado. My cakes are extraordinary. And the Tiramisu is better than the real deal. I can’t forget my avocado pops. They sell out everywhere. That’s right, avocado. But wait – I also put spinach in it. It might sound crazy, but you gotta try them! They are the best summer treat ever! And of course I still make delicious raw chocolate. Keeping in tradition, all of my products are completely raw, organic and fair trade – free from gluten, dairy, soy, corn, and eggs.
My philosophy from the beginning has never been to sell to a vegan, or a vegetarian. My vision was to inspire people to eat the way I have been eating for 15yrs. I love the way it makes me feel. I love the energy it gives me. I love the variety. I love it’s simplicity. I love how it grounds me. I wake up every morning inspired by the realization that I am not the only one searching for a different way to fuel one’s body. This market is growing rapidly. Everyday there is some sort of new information. Someone speaking out what I’ve been living for 15yrs. Maybe this silly little vegan has a good idea after all.
My name is Stacey Burgess and I’m the proud owner of Live On Chocolate Ltd.
p.s. I’m debt free because nobody would give me credit!
Peace, love and raw cacao!