Nearly two decades ago, in a tiny apartment in Dallas, Texas, Katrina Markoff bit into a piece of chocolate she made herself, and thought she might be on to something. In the three years prior, she had graduated from Vanderbilt University, moved to Paris to study patisserie, toured Southeast Asia and Australia, and then found herself working for her uncle’s mail order business. “I was living off of pretzels and feeling a little lost,” she said.
In her search for a new direction, Markoff decided to make chocolate, with a creative twist. To her mixture of cocoa, milk, butter and sugar, she added spices she had collected on her travels: curry from India, paprika from Hungary, matcha from Japan. She began selling her spiced truffles out of her home to family and friends, one of whom raved to Food & Wine about the confections. The magazine wrote an article about Markoff’s chocolates, and her popularity soared.
These days, Markoff’s Vosges Haut-Chocolate makes $30 million per year in revenue and is sold in over 2,000 outlets, including Whole Foods. And as her company grew—she now employs over 100 people—so did Markoff’s entrepreneurial know-how. “It’s so important to followyour entrepreneurial intuition, but to also knowwhen to take a step back. One of the biggest issues I’ve faced is knowing when I have to let go and allow my team to handle something. I can’t fix everything, and that took some getting used to. Now, I realize how important it is for me to support my team and help them do what I hired them to do. Taking a step back lets my team bring their best to the table.”
Her best piece of advice for growing a company: “Don’t expand until you’re bursting at the seams,” she says. “Once I decided to really start this chocolate company, my first step was to find someone with equipment I could use to make the chocolate. Eventually, I bought my own equipment. It took me about a year after starting my company to realize that I could only make roughly 100 boxes of chocolate per week. And when orders started to exceed that, I knew that I needed a partner and that my company would get bigger.”
Today, when the Chicago factory closes for the night, Markoff can still be found making chocolate. “I stay behind, turn on some music and experiment all on my own,” she says.
After all these years, it still tastes so sweet.
Written by Alison Caporimo. Alison is a writer, editor and book author based in Brooklyn, New York. You can connect with her on Instagram: @alisoncaporimo.