Atlanta chocolate shop wins award for work with climate and community

Xocolatl owners Matt Weyandt and Elaine Read won the inaugural Gusto Impact Award for Atlanta.

Credit: Courtesy of Xocolatl

Credit: Courtesy of Xocolatl

Xocolatl owners Matt Weyandt and Elaine Read won the inaugural Gusto Impact Award for Atlanta.

Local small-batch chocolate shop Xocolatl won the inaugural Atlanta Gusto Impact Award, which honors impactful small businesses.

Gusto, a payroll, benefits and human resources platform for small businesses, awarded Xocolatl owners Elaine Read and Matt Weyandt $50,000 in local advertising, $10,000 in cash and one free year of Gusto payroll.

Tolithia Kornweibel, chief revenue officer for Gusto, said small business openings over the past few years have been at an all-time high. As a result, she said the Gusto team wanted to find a more overt way to help small businesses.

They decided to bring the Impact Award to the three U.S. cities with the highest rates of new businesses, including Orlando, Florida; Austin, Texas; and Atlanta.

According to a Gusto analysis of Census Business Formation statistics, Atlanta is the second fastest growing city in the U.S. for entrepreneurship, with 31.3 new business applications per 1,000 residents.

“We wanted to put our money where our mouth is in terms of leveling the playing field for folks who are creating positive impact,” Kornweibel said.

A team of judges considered submissions from over 700 businesses in Atlanta. They considered each business’ story and their positive impact, and looked for businesses that balanced doing good with smart entrepreneurship.

While considering the submissions, Kornweibel said she was particularly impressed with the journey that led Read and Weyandt to start Xocolatl.

“You’ve got two folks who were just moved by their passion,” she said. “It was almost like a compulsion to do this.”

Read and her husband, Weyandt, opened Xocolatl at Krog Street Market in 2014. The couple became enamored with single-origin chocolate, or chocolate made with cacao beans from the same country, after living in the jungles of Costa Rica. The couple would share a locally-made chocolate bar on the hammock after their children went to bed most nights.

Matt Weyandt checks chocolate liquor at Xocolatl in Krog Street Market on Feb. 3, 2016. The owners of Xocolatl, Elaine Read and Weyandt, make bean-to-bar chocolate in Atlanta. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Credit: Hyosub Shin

icon to expand image

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Read said she was previously only aware of the mass-produced chocolate found in most grocery stores, which is designed to have a uniform, sugary flavor. Her time in Costa Rica showed her and Wyandt that chocolate can be a “very fine food,” she said, something that can be sourced intentionally and processed with care to highlight the cacao’s natural flavor.

Xocolatl sells bean-to-bar chocolate with cacao beans from several different regions, including Nicaragua, Peru and Tanzania. In addition to single-origin bars, they offer flavored bars like blood orange and raspberry and dark chocolate and sea salt.

But opening a small-batch chocolate shop was about more than just creating a high-quality treat.

“Part of the impetus for doing the business in the first place was to build our own thing to the ideals and the values that we wanted to share with our kids and the world,” Weyandt said.

Read said the three pillars of their business are environmental sustainability, addressing food insecurity and education and looking out for their customers’ health.

They partner with organizations like Second Helpings Atlanta, a nonprofit that diverts food waste to families struggling with food insecurity, and donating a portion of profits from their Easter chocolate bunny sale to the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

One of their more ambitious goals was to become Carbon Neutral Certified, which they finally achieved last October.

They had to measure the greenhouse gas emissions released at every step of the bean-to-bar process, from the vehicles their farmers use to move beans to the fermentary, all the way to the paper mill where they purchase their wrappers.

The next step was reducing their carbon emissions and finding ways to make up for the amount of carbon emitted by each candy bar, including using renewable energy to power their warehouse and chocolate shop; purchasing carbon credits to protect the rainforest; and working with Climeworks, a Swiss company, to suck carbon out of the atmosphere at a facility in Iceland.

“We’ve always felt like it was important, but I think this year has really driven home how this is an issue that’s impacting people now, and it’s not something that’s 20 or 30 years down the road,” Weyandt said.

Gusto awarded Xocolatl with an advertisement campaign. The ad will premiere over the next few weeks.

Credit: Courtesy of Gusto

icon to expand image

Credit: Courtesy of Gusto

As small business owners, Read and Weyandt wear many hats. Winning this award and gaining access to Gusto’s marketing expertise will help Xocolatl spread the word about their business and the work they’re doing, Read said.

As for the extra $10,000, Read and Weyandt will use some of the money to continue expanding their operations into bonbons and other confections, and the rest to finish the chocolate tasting room at their new factory in southwest Atlanta, so they can start offering regular tours and tastings.

“Being recognized for the things that we care about most, which is the mission behind the company, is probably the nicest feeling award that we can get,” Read said.

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