French Broad Chocolates
A Love Story

Once upon a time, there was a chance encounter at a wedding — a boy behind the bar and a girl with a long pink bow. After the kiss, came a whirlwind — whisking them from their comfortable Minneapolis lives to the cacao-rich jungles of Costa Rica, via the Pan-American highway aboard a 40-foot school bus turned into a cozy mobile home.

So began Bread and Chocolate, a bakery café lovingly born in the small village of Puerto Viejo, on the Caribbean coast, with locally-grown chocolate for their handmade desserts and a gathering space for the community to come together. The experience fueled their passion, but they were hungry for more. And so, after two years, the time came to forge ahead — the mountains were calling.

If you’re an Asheville local, you’ve probably heard a version of our love story in the eleven years since we founded French Broad Chocolates, as it’s part of our brand. French Broad Chocolates is an authentic reflection of who we are as people: our creativity, the principles we believe in, and the good we want to create in the world. As with our relationship, we are always listening, reflecting, learning and growing to make our business stronger.

From the outside looking in, it may appear as if we have it all. What started as a mom & pop chocolate business at a local tailgate market has flourished into a thriving 90-person organization, with a bean-to-bar chocolate factory, a destination dessert restaurant, an online store, and a growing wholesale business. More people want to buy and sell our chocolate than we can even make, so we’re continuing to grow to accommodate demand. We, along with our amazing team of talented employees, have so many exciting things on the horizon for 2018!

Running a successful business with your soul mate may seem like an idyllic dream. And in a lot of ways, it is! Not only do I get to spend more time with my partner than most, we get to pursue our passion and build something meaningful together. We have had the opportunity to collaborate through our shared beliefs and strive toward mutual goals. It’s not just time we share, it’s a mission. And through it, we have become closer and more connected. Ultimately, we are strengthening our commitment to each other through our commitment to French Broad Chocolates.

Our two sons, Sam and Max, are so proud to be part of French Broad Chocolates. Chocolate has been the favorite food of our youngest son, Max (10), his entire life. He has developed a mature palate that appreciates the deepest dark chocolate flavors. Sam (12) is a budding pastry chef, constantly challenging himself in the kitchen and independently creating handmade desserts. And what kid wouldn’t want to tell his classmates that his parents own a chocolate factory? It’s beautiful to share this journey with them, and see them emotionally invested in our family business.

On the other hand, being wife and husband business partners brings new meaning to the phrase “married to your work.” The stresses of running a business are inevitable – the periods of uncertainty and change, the financial risk, the seemingly endless list of tasks. It can be overwhelming and exhausting. I read somewhere that when couples start a business together, it’s like applying Miracle Gro to your personal relationship: it enhances the good and the ugly. Maintaining a healthy marriage as business partners requires clear and honest communication, and lots of it. You can’t sweep problems under the rug for it’s bound to come out somewhere else.

People often ask me about my “work/life balance,” and how I manage it all. I’d love to share that I have strict boundaries around work and family, and that once I am home, Dan and I don’t talk about the business. But, I don’t think about work/life balance as though the two are separate parts of me. It’s all just one life. Because our work and family lives are so intertwined, we can flow from one to the other easily in the course of a day. That can mean tremendous freedom but also a higher accountability to doing what it takes to get it all done. Sometimes that’s leaving in the middle of a work day to pick up our kiddos, and sometimes it means discussing business strategy before we go to sleep. One thing we commit to is honoring each other’s request to stop talking about work, or the need for a break. Sometimes, enough is enough.
Our kids help keep our lives balanced, too. While both Dan and I have the personality type to keep on working, thankfully, we need to pick our boys up from school, cook family dinner, help with homework, etc. We generally leave the office at 5:00, and spend most weekends together as a family – family is what matters most.

Self care is a priority for both Dan and me. We are each committed to a personal practice: tai chi at the Tao Institute for Dan, and pilates at Clasique for me. We support and encourage each other to prioritize these activities, even in the busiest times for our business, when self care is most necessary to keep us at our best.

When people ask how we do it all, we both usually answer: we couldn’t do it without each other. Running a business with your life partner is hard work; it can provide personal and professional fulfillment, and bring you closer as a couple. Our future is bright. We are excited to stay true to our core, while moving steadily towards our wildest dreams.

My Top 10 Tips for Successfully Running a Business with your
Life Partner

1. Play to Your Strengths: Figure out who has strengths and interests to manage certain aspects of the business and divide up responsibilities accordingly. It can be challenging, as we both care so much about all aspects of the organization, but without this separation, it’s easy to step on toes or work on redundant tasks.

2. Keep it Professional: This goes for public displays of affection (which can create an uncomfortable environment for your team) and public disagreements. It’s easy to be a little too harsh with your spouse in a business setting, but we try to not argue in front of our employees (we fail at times!). It’s important to maintain a united front, and public disagreements can be destabilizing for employees.

3.Commit to the vision: It’s critical for both partners to create a shared vision for the company. If one wants to remain a mom-and-pop shop, while the other wants to go global, you’ve got an issue. It’s impossible to evolve when the partners’ visions are not aligned. Decide on the vision together, and commit to achieving it together.

4.Embrace healthy conflict: Emphasis on healthy. Being on the same page doesn’t mean you never disagree! The best decisions come out of respectful dialogue and debate.

5.Be Grateful: Gratitude is literally in our company mission, and we try to cultivate it daily. It can be easy to take your partner for granted. Every day, make it a point to recognize each other’s strengths and accomplishments and express gratitude for them.

6.Trust each other: Trust your partner to make sound decisions that achieve the shared goals, even if it’s a different decision than you would have made.

7.Define your values: Several years ago, Dan and I went through a business soul searching exercise, leading to the documentation of our company values. When we find ourselves in a situation where we are struggling to make a hard decision, we almost always find the right answer there.

8.Honor personal boundaries: Honor the need in yourself and your partner for alone time and personal space.

9.Be kind: Listen, forgive, and have patience with each other.

10. Prioritize your relationship: Our family is what matters most. After all, we’re in this together.

Jael Rattigan lived in the cacao-rich rainforest of Costa Rica for two years. At her restaurant, Bread and Chocolate, she sourced local chocolate for her handmade desserts, sparking a passion for cacao. She co-founded French Broad Chocolates in Asheville in 2006.

Jael Rattigan
Written by Jael Rattigan