In what part of town do you live?
We live in Cutler Bay.
How long have you lived in the area and what brought you to town?
15 years between Palmetto Bay and Cutler Bay. Before that, Caracas Venezuela. I came here for better opportunities and to pursue the American dream.
Would you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am a chocolate maker. I have a passion for sports and music and I’m married with two daughters – 13 and almost 10. We’re all in this business together and you know – we’re loving life, man.
Would you tell us a little bit about your business, CAO chocolates?
We source the raw ingredients, in this case raw cacao beans from several countries in South America and the Caribbean. We establish direct connections with the farmers to cut the middle man and actually pay a fair price to them directly. That way we can guarantee our chocolates are 100% fair trade. And, we have the opportunity to travel to these places and educate them in business – because I also have an accounting degree. We have our factory in Pinecrest where we sell retail. Also, we work with major hotels, chefs, pastry chefs, and restaurants. And we also wholesale to different places, coffee shops such as Panther and supermarkets like Milam’s markets.
Would you teach us the process of making a chocolate bar?
Imagine that it can take up to seven days. The first thing we do is receive the cocoa beans and we sort them just to make sure that all the beans that we’re going to use are exactly the same size and shape. We discard the flat ones and the raw ones. After that, we have to roast them – which is very similar to coffee. But coffee stops there – we then have to crack and break the beans. We remove and discard the skin part of the shell and focus on the cocoa nibs. The nibs go into a machine that grinds them and turn them into a paste. And then we add the sugar and any other ingredients such as milk for the milk chocolate. It can take anywhere from 48 to 72 hours. After that , most of the time we age the chocolate. Then we move the chocolate to a different machine, which tempers the chocolate to give it a shine and a nice crack. And after that, we wrap it and it’s ready. It’s a labor of love.
When you receive the beans, are they already fermented?
Yes, of course. They have to be fermented in order to get the permits for import.
You are the first company in the US to use locally grown cacao. How’s that going?
We’ve made two batches of chocolates working with a locally grown cacao. We have new protocols for fermentation that we will use when we have more cacao to experiment with. Hurricane Irma set us back and we have to wait for new cacao. The flavor profiles that we got in the first two batches were very fruity, like papaya and mango with a certain woodiness as well. It’s going to be very interesting. It’s a trial and error process and there are many things to to improve with every batch.
When you taste wine, you might swish it around, look at it, smell it and taste it. How do you taste chocolate and what are you looking for?
For chocolate, we use our five senses, sight, touch, hear, smell and taste. The first thing we do is actually touch – chocolate, that is well tempered, shouldn’t melt too fast in your fingers. Then we look at it and it should be shiny and bright – that gives you the idea that it’s been properly stored. After that, you break it, so it makes a noise. It’s called snap. That’s snap means it’s been well tempered – which is the process of turning the liquid chocolate into a solid, at the right temperature, which guarantees all the crystals in the chocolates are working together. Then you taste it. When you taste chocolate, you don’t chew it, you let it melt slowly in your mouth. That way you’re able to detect all the flavor profiles. And, take your time. I always say, don’t be in a rush when you’re tasting chocolate.
Can you talk about your favorite chocolate?
I always say that I have favorite chocolates by the week or day. I have a new bean coming, for the second time, from Venezuela that is very interesting. Think about a mix of nutmeg, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, with touches of hazelnuts and almonds. It’s a very interesting flavor profile and very friendly for people that are not into ‘bean-to-bar’ yet and they’re just expecting a sweet chocolate.
And, we are doing collaborations. Right now I have a particular bar with Panther coffee and ThreeFold Cafe. We use their coffee beans and cacao from Dominican Republic and the results are absolutely stunning. It definitely elevates our chocolate to another level.
How does the accountant in you match the chocolate maker? Do these two things ever conflict or benefit each other?
I always say that if it wasn’t for the accounting degree, CAO Chocolates would not have lasted this long. For every business owner, you need to understand the numbers. You need to know how to project, you need to know how to control the cash flow. Just because I can make a good chocolate or somebody can make a great cake or a delicious empanada doesn’t mean it’s going to be successful business. It takes way more than a good product to be successful in business. It isn’t that you don’t fail, but an accounting background makes it’s easier to fix what its unpredictable for people that have no idea how to run their numbers.
What is your favorite part about the business?
Having returning customers. Having someone that’s been with us for 10 years and are big CAO Chocolate fans that want to share our chocolates with their families. For me, it’s very important that someone wants to create a moment through our chocolates. That happens a lot with returning customers because obviously they’re coming back for a reason. And their trust is something that we treasure.
How is your family involved with the business?
It’s my wife and me. We’re partners in life and business. I’m very lucky that she also has an accounting background… so, sometimes she lets the chocolate maker dream and sometimes she brings me back to earth. If it wasn’t for her, I believe that CAO chocolates wouldn’t be where we are today.
We remember when you started CAO at the Pinecrest Market. What markets are you at now?
We go now to the Coral Gables market every year for a couple of months when the weather permits. We were doing both, but wanted to take a day off for a family day.
When you visit LNB at the market, what is your favorite thing at our stand?
Authenticity. You guys are real! When you offer a type of product you really have to believe in what you’re offering. You can really tell when people talk passion or when people talk just for business. You want to educate and through that you’re definitely selling, but there’s a different value. That’s what I get at your stand. There’s a value beyond the product.
Do you have any favorite farmer’s market stories?
You never know who you’re going to connect with, It’s a great networking place. I met one of the managers of Milam’s at the Coral Gables farmer’s market. It was funny because the guy just walked up to my stand, not talking much, just checking out the product and the packaging. To be honest, I thought the guy was a competitor or something because of the way he was looking at the product. Before he left, he said, ‘I am the manager of Milams in the Grove and I would love to carry your product in my shop.’ He helped us through the process and we’re very grateful for that.
What’s a favorite activity you enjoy doing with your kids?
With our little one, I love going fishing. And with our older daughter, we do a lot of cooking inside the house and outdoors. I love the grill and she’s always helping me out. My two daughters come with me every Saturday to the farmer’s market – and they work with me. The three of us look forward to this time of the year, when we know the markets are coming, and we can spend some market time together.
Where do you all like to go out for food?
I only go to local places. Here in Palmetto Bay, the French Bakery on US1 and 144th, is my go to place. If you want an absolutely wonderful burger, I either go to Hole in the Wall on 144th or Pub Grill on 184th st. We’re lucky that we have the best burgers in Miami right here.
What about for a special occasion, where might you go?
If I have a special occasion, there’s a restaurant in Doral called Marianas. He’s Argentinian, but it’s more like international food. The chef’s a good friend of mine and trust me if you tell him that it’s a special occasion, he will take care of every single detail and it’s going to be special for sure. I love going there. We may go this weekend for my daughter’s birthday.
What’s Miami’s best kept secret?
That’s a good question. I like to discover and I like to think that I haven’t found it. Because that way, it keeps me encouraged to continue searching for new local things.
What is a worthy splurge?
One of my favorite moments is to sit down on the patio at my house, watch a soccer game and have a scotch. That’s my moment.
What community groups or community groups are important to you that you might like to share?
We belong to Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce. And, with CAO chocolates, we belong to another group called Gentleman’s Journal which is an entrepreneur group of business owners where we share life stories and business stories in order to continue growing. We encourage each other and we help different organizations. Right now we are collecting toys for the Nicklaus Hospital Foundation. We are also collecting gifts for the elders who are often forgotten – usually people focus on just the kids.
What’s special coming up for the holidays at CAO?
This season were trying to keep it Miami style. In Miami, we have a thing for coquito, which is like the Latin version of egg nog. In Venezuela, we have something called ponche crema and they’re completely different. This year we’re bringing back the poncha crema which has became a tradition. People start calling the 1st of November to see if we have it ready. And of course we have gift baskets too. Since we use a local printing company, we can customize anything like corporate gifts.
What question would you like to ask us?
How many interviews have you done? It’s super cool what you’re doing and taking time for this is awesome.
(A+W) This is our 131st. It’s really a fun part of the week getting to know people a little better, sharing their story, and then hearing from people about the connections they make.
Is there a question you would like to ask the community or a challenge?
I would say, remember where you live. Remember the impact that you can make in your local businesses. I challenge the people in this community to go out and find cool local places.