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My name is: Julia Choi-Rodriguez.

I’m known for being: Co-founder of Vesta Chocolate, also a freelance food stylist at Baby One More Bite.

I’m talking about: Vesta Chocolate! We make craft chocolate from cacao beans first, and make all our confections, baked goods and drinks using our own chocolate.

You can find it at: Our factory and café is located in Montclair, NJ. We launched in January, 2020—not too long before pandemic hit. Additionally, we have an online store that is always open. We’re also carried in select stores such as Daily Provisions and Greats of Craft in NYC. 

What inspired me to start it was: Pre-Vesta, my husband, Roger, worked as a pastry chef at Jean-Georges, Gramercy Tavern and Del Posto and, most recently, as a master chocolate maker in Red Hook, Brooklyn. I had also done stints at Gramercy and Jean-Georges and was working as a freelance food stylist. When we got married, we wanted to combine our forces and create a shop where everyday chocolate products would be made with small batch craft chocolate. We asked ourselves, “Why can't chocolate chip cookies, brownies and bonbons be made with high quality small batch craft chocolate?” We wanted to create products that bring the true taste of chocolate (not one that's overloaded with bad quality cacao, sugar and emulsifiers) in every bite. 

Since we began, it has evolved from: We opened right before pandemic, so we had to find quick ways to navigate as a very young company. Since then, we’ve added our online store, a collection of vegan bars that are loaded with superfoods to help boost immunity and meditational tools such as Cacao Zen garden. We started thinking not just about what tastes the best, but what is good for our bodies. Cacao naturally has 40 times more antioxidants than blueberries, so we knew we were working with the right ingredient. 

What makes it special is: Roger is native of the Dominican Republic where lots of high quality organic cacao grows. He grew up around his grandfather's plantation and, later on, honed his skills as a pastry chef and chocolatier at some of NYC's best restaurants. So, having a full-circle understanding of cacao and the techniques to turn that into elegant chocolate is a huge asset to our company.

At Vesta, we use organic cacao and organic panela (unrefined raw sugar) to make chocolate without any chemicals and additives. Moreover, when we create a product, we always go by the taste—we are constantly fine-tuning to find that delicate balance between the flavors. That ability to adjust and fine-tune flavors helps us keep up the quality at all times. 

We’re inspired by our roots, our travels and our feelings—our end goal is to bring happiness and joy, not just chocolate.

One thing you can’t miss is: Our line of Vegan Superfood bars are something that nobody else has! We have Matcha Oats, Turmeric Ginger (think Golden Mylk) and Goji Hibiscus Rose. Their vibrant colors are a feast for the eyes, and they're yummy as they are good for our immune system. Turmeric is known to be anti-inflammatory with high levels of antioxidants, and it's a really fun and enjoyable way to incorporate something that's good for the body. Also, you can't miss our version of  "nutella" that only sports four ingredients: cacao, roasted hazelnuts, panela and sea salt. Sometimes you just need a spoonful of it. 

My favorite secret detail is: That we taste everything! We want to make sure we’re serving something that meets our standards. The same way, we like to get our hands on every single process to make sure they're as good as they can be. 

The process of conceiving of/making something is helpful to me, especially in this challenging time, because: It is a chance to evolve, grow and survive! Being stagnant is perhaps the most scary thing in a challenging time like this, and being creative lets me convert my doubts and fears into something beautiful, something imaginative, something productive. Being creative and experimental is perhaps the most notable driving force that kept us above water in 2020.

Vesta is an act of self-love because: Every product at Vesta is created with intention and with the best organic ingredients that we can find. So, in that sense, enjoying our product is the definition of self-love. Only the best and most honest for your body and mind.

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