After years of working as a journalist, Liz dared to open her own company OCHO making and selling craft chocolate in the small harbourside city of Dunedin in New Zealand. Visiting her one day at the manufactory we decided to sit in the backyard for the interview, to catch some sunlight.
Janis: You travelled to Latin America to look for the origin of chocolate before you started OCHO in 2013.
Liz: Well, that's not strictly true, first I went for the language. It was only when I was there that I started being interested in chocolate. There's so much about cacao in Latin America! When the Spanish conquered Mexico they discovered the beans and eventually brought them to Europe.
Coming back to New Zealand, I discovered that you can buy small scale equipment and beans online, to make your own chocolate. So, after experimenting for eighteen months I thought I could make this in a bigger way! (smiling)
You also worked as a journalist and as an artist in the past?
Yes! I worked as a journalist before I decided to go to Art School, which is something I always wanted to do when I was young, but never thought it was the right thing to do. (laughing)
Haha. What's Dunedin like to live in?
Fantastic! I don't want to shift anywhere else! It's so easy to get around - I can do half a dozen things and still be back at the factory in time. Plus I love Dunedin visually and it's got a lot of heritage and cultural things happening. I also find that people are very supportive here.
What was difficult so far?
Every step of the way it has been about having the nerve to just keep going. I'm hoping to move into new premises near the centre of town sometime soon, which will be a lot more rent to pay. But I just have to keep in mind, that three years ago I was really worried about paying the rent on this place and now it seems so cheap!
Also, being a small business, employing people can be nerve wracking as you can't afford to get that wrong.
Why would you like to move your business into town?
To get a shop frontage for a more visible presence. People are really interested and want to see how things are made! So my idea is to make a place where people can see the chocolate being made and have a hot chocolate and chocolate cake! (smiling)
It's great that you source your beans from the Pacific, how did you find them?
Yes, I was very keen to do that so the beans don't have such a long way to go. But it was really tricky. At first I tried contacting farmers through people in New Zealand, but in the end I decided to visit Papua New Guinea. This group of farmers has set up a farmer cooperative and an export company to export their beans. I met them by chance and started buying my beans directly through them.
What about the language barrier?
In the senior positions they all speak English well enough. It would be impossible otherwise.
I love that each of your chocolate bars is single origin!
That's really important to me! It's good to see where exactly the cocoa is grown and that it is a place you can actually go to.
Which flavour is your bestseller?
Salted caramel, it's the sweetest one! (smiling) The next most popular one would be pepper and spice.
Do you enjoy being a small business, or do you intend to grow a lot bigger?
Being a small business, you often find yourself doing a lot at home at night. I'd like to be big enough, where I can afford people doing certain parts of the process and I can concentrate on the management.
I guess you don't have another job to support yourself?
No, I have money saved, which was one advantage working for many years paying off my house. That saved money supports me now, while I get the chocolate business up and running.
What do you like to do in your downtime?
I have a deal with my partner, to have Sundays off. We walk the dog, do nothing.
I also really like going to the movies.
Which is the best cinema in Dunedin?
The Rialto! And during the film festival the Regent has all the good ones.
Thank you Liz Rowe for the interview!
To find out more about her work visit her website here.
photography, interview & text: Janis Manini Claudia Kanga