By KATHY NEIDERT | VEDA board member
The Vernon Economic Development Association is happy to announce that Azizi Chocolates is a new tenant at the Food Enterprise Center. Azizi Chocolates is owned and operated by Zara Escobar, originally from Minneapolis, who moved to Viroqua two years ago with her partner because they wanted to live in a rural area with a strong community.
Zara began making chocolate five years ago when she lived in Hawaii and made very small amounts of rolled chocolates to sell at the farmers’ market there.
“I was inspired to take a chocolatiering course last year because I’ve always wanted to dive deeper into the craft of working with chocolate. This propelled me into starting this business,” she said.
Her business name, Azizi Chocolates, comes from her family heritage. She explains, “Azizi was the name of my Lebanese great-great-grandmother, and it means ‘precious and powerful.’ My love of food came from this side of the family. My grandparents used to make elaborate Lebanese food, and my visits there were centered around eating and cooking.”
Her family’s influence goes beyond her business name, however: it’s set the high standard for it.
“I used to make baklava with my grandfather,” she said. “He would explain the particulars of each step, and we had to do it all with exact perfection. Later we would enjoy with gusto knowing that it was the best it could be. I find myself remembering my grandfather often as I make chocolates. In these chocolates, I honor my ancestors and their robust enjoyment of the food they made.”
As a result of learning early to strive for perfection, Zara searches for “fine-flavor chocolate” to use in her chocolates.
“I support chocolate makers who use cacao from smaller farms growing interesting cacao that has been roasted only enough to bring out the fabulous flavors in that particular bean,” she said.
“The makers I support do direct-trade and pay an above-market price for the cacao. They include the farmers in the process and enable them and their families to thrive. Buying this kind of chocolate is the only way for me, especially because much of commodity cacao is farmed by farmers stuck in poverty, with no way to get out, and the slave labor that is still prevalent in many cacao-growing areas.
“This fine-flavored cacao is mixed with fair-trade spices, organic coconut milk, and locally farmed fruit to make dark, creamy confections of which you only need one or two to make your day. I’m also committed to providing just as many vegan options as not!”
Beginning this summer, Zara is using one of the commercial kitchens at the VEDA-owned and operated Food Enterprise Center at 1201 N. Main St. in Viroqua. Right now, she’s selling only limited amounts of chocolate to the Driftless Café and other small accounts or events.
“Otherwise, it is not publicly available at the moment,” she said, adding that she plans to start out selling boxes of dipped truffles this winter through a chocolate-of-the-month club.
Here’s more good news for us chocolate lovers: Zara plans to be at the Viroqua Farmers Market in September, taking holiday orders and selling at holiday markets in the region. Look for more opportunities to buy her fine chocolate as her business grows.
VEDA welcomes Azizi Chocolates and wishes it much sweet success! For more information, email Zara at [email protected]
More news stories about VEDA and FEC
VEDA and the Food Enterprise Center have recently been featured in two national news magazines. Here are the links to the online articles:
Wilbur elected to board
George Wilbur, supervisor for the Town of Whitestown, was elected to serve on the VEDA Board of Directors at our annual membership meeting held in May. A graduate of Marquette University Law School, Wilbur is an attorney in private practice in La Farge, specializing in real estate and criminal law. He was an owner/broker in Wilbur Realty, with an office in La Farge from 1984 to 1996.
Early in his legal career, he served as Vernon County District Attorney from 1997 to 1999. He is also the former chair and current secretary of the Vernon County Bar Association and a member of the Vernon County Sobriety Court Steering Committee.
Prior to becoming a lawyer, Wilbur was a principal figure in Kickapoo Stove Works, which manufactured Kickapoo wood stoves and furnaces. He thinks his broad career experience in manufacturing, marketing, real estate, small business and law will assist the VEDA board in evaluating opportunities for job creation in Vernon County.
“I see my initial role on the board as learning about VEDA’s operations and finances and the opportunities for economic growth in Vernon County that VEDA can facilitate,” Wilbur said. “I have agreed to serve on the board because I believe in contributing to the common good of our community. VEDA has been very successful in creating jobs and expanding the economic horizons of Vernon County, and I am pleased to be a part of that effort.”
Welcome, George. We look forward to working with you.