The sweet­est spot in Raleigh

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION&COMMENTARY - Pa­tri­aKaye Aarons Pa­tria-Kaye Aarons is a tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter and con­fec­tioner. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­ and find­pa­tria@ya­, or tweet @find­pa­tria.

I’VE BEEN away from my beloved Ja­maica for more than a month hav­ing one of those life-chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ences. As part of Pres­i­dent Obama’s Young Lead­ers of the Amer­i­cas Ini­tia­tive, 250 en­trepreneurs from Latin Amer­ica and the Caribbean were brought to the US for a near six-week fel­low­ship. We were eight strong from Ja­maica.

The ob­jec­tive was to em­power young peo­ple around the world and en­sure, they have the tools, skills, and net­works to tackle our shared global chal­lenges.

The fel­lows were scat­tered across 21 states in the coun­try and as­signed to Raleigh, North Carolina, and were 10 bright, spir­ited busi­ness own­ers I never knew un­til now.

There was Freddie from Cuba, who was re­con­nect­ing that Caribbean is­land with the rest of the word through tech­nol­ogy. Ana from Panama (she just loved say­ing that) em­pow­ered ru­ral women in her coun­try to make magic, turn­ing what some saw as waste into beau­ti­ful hand­crafted jew­ellery. Fris­sia taught young ladies in Mex­ico the things you never learn in school. The soft skills and life lessons that pre­pared you for suc­cess.

Va­lerie from Do­minica (not to be con­fused with the Do­mini­can Repub­lic) throws on her su­per­hero cape ev­ery day and in­ter­venes in the lives of young girls who have been through trau­matic sit­u­a­tions to help them heal. Daniel wants to en­sure that new busi­nesses in Venezuela suc­ceed. He con­nects en­trepreneurs with the tools and re­sources they need to re­build them­selves and their coun­try.


Jen­nifer’s busi­ness warms your heart and body. She works with 200 moth­ers in Peru to make gar­ments from al­paca and baby al­paca. Cris­to­bal is no or­di­nary farmer. He makes all nat­u­ral dairy prod­ucts in Chile with no sweet­en­ers, ad­di­tives or preser­va­tives. Karola is mak­ing Colom­bia health­ier and more de­li­cious. Her fam­ily-owned com­pany dis­trib­utes all-nat­u­ral prod­ucts through­out Colom­bia.

Luis is a real cham­pion for small Mex­i­can cof­fee farm­ers. He arms them with train­ing, but he also has a crazy good farm-to-cup busi­ness model that cuts out the mid­dle­man; he gives prof­its right back to those farm­ers and their com­mu­ni­ties. (I’m go­ing to con­vince him to repli­cate his busi­ness in Ja­maica).

And I rounded out the 10 with my com­pany, Sweetie.

My work-home for four weeks in Raleigh was to be Es­cazu – an eightyear-old choco­late fac­tory. De­sirous of build­ing out my own fac­tory space one day, this was the per­fect place for me to learn up close how a con­fec­tionery space runs.

Tucked away in an un­likely res­i­den­tial area, I walked up the brick­paved court­yard to the ad­dress I was given. The soft, wel­com­ing chime of the front door ush­ered me into a space I loved im­me­di­ately.


The shop had a homely charm. It was fur­nished with cute ta­bles and chairs per­fect for friends to share a cup of hot choco­late on a cold win­ter night or equally as apt for a fam­ily to share choco­late ice cream cones on a warm sum­mer day.

Owned by Hal and Danielle, the two can take credit for mak­ing the best choco­late I’ve ever tasted. Af­ter eight years of choco­late mak­ing, they’ve per­fected the art. Be­sides, you can taste when a prod­uct has love in it. Theirs does.

Ev­ery morn­ing I walked in, a wel­com­ing smile was al­ways as close as a piece of choco­late. The pair ex­posed me to ev­ery­thing they do. Hands on. I sorted coco beans, roasted, ground coco nibs, foiled and wrapped bars, packed boxes – and I loved it.

I walked away at the end of the month with a clear un­der­stand­ing of how I’d lay out my fac­tory the day I owned one and ex­actly how I’d set up the roles and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. I also got a great ex­am­ple of the happy cul­ture I’d want to repli­cate.

(A lit­tle known se­cret). On Thurs­day morn­ings, be­fore the doors open to cus­tomers at 11 a.m., the staff have a pri­vate dance party. At my first Es­cazu dance party, the DJ (one of the staff mem­bers) played an en­tire set of Bob Mar­ley – my per­sonal wel­come to the Es­cazu fam­ily. That was sweet.

I went back to my ho­tel ev­ery day smelling like choco­late. It was a pleas­ant side ef­fect, and I would reg­u­larly catch my­self on the bus in­hal­ing deeply against my sweater sleeves.

Raleigh, North Carolina, has its fair share of Ja­maicans, and I had oc­ca­sion to spend my last af­ter­noon with Mar­cia. A friend of a friend, you’d think we had known each other for­ever. Mar­cia clearly mi­grated with Ja­maican sun­shine in­side her and she made me feel happy and at home. Thank you.

Walk­ing through a mall near our ho­tel, I some­how man­aged on not one, but two oc­ca­sions to see li­cence plate hold­ers bear­ing the Ja­maican flag. I waved wildly at the un­sus­pect­ing own­ers; one who didn’t even see me and the other who ten­ta­tively (and to­tally con­fused) waved back.

I’m happy to fi­nally be head­ing back home. I did a lot, but I learnt even more. And so much of what I have learnt, I’m tak­ing back to Ja­maica to im­ple­ment. This trip was big­ger than me. It opened my eyes to what can hap­pen when peo­ple have a will and work to­gether.

Ja­maica, we can do this!

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Jamaica

© PressReader. All rights reserved.