Maui is known for lots of things, but chocolate isn’t really one of them. Melanie Boudar, the owner of Sweet Paradise Chocolate, is trying to change that. After 30 years as a diamond and gem dealer, which included numerous buying trips to some of the ‘chocolate’ capitals of the world, Melanie decided it was time for a change. Merging her background of fine jewelry design with a passion for high-end confections, Melanie has created a signature style for her Sweet Paradise Chocolates. Each creation is handmade, using a special blend of chocolate from around the world, mixed with a wide variety of ingredients including fresh tropical fruits, nuts and spices. Classic ‘awesome with chocolate’ flavors can be found at the stores, including macadamia nut and raspberry, as well as some unusual and delicious sounding combinations like Mango Mojito, Key Lime Pistachio, Banana Maui Rum and Wasabi Ginger Sesame (selection varies with season/availability).
Sweet Paradise Chocolate currently has a retail shop in Wailea and a chocolate cafe and tasting bar at the Maui Tropical Plantation. (The chocolates are also available online for those of you not lucky enough to live on Maui). Melanie is also hard at work with a new venture, Manawai Estate, a 7-acre farm in Haiku, where confection ingredients such as cacao, vanilla beans, bananas, chili peppers, nuts, and various citrus and tropical fruits will be grown and processed.
Maui Made: You seem like a busy lady – you have two stores and an online shop, you are starting a cacao farm, and you own and operate a B&B on Hawaii, how do you fit it all in?
Melanie Boudar: Its tough but I have great staff in each location and business partners that occasionally fly here and help with big projects like drip irrigation. I’m busy but truly love what I do, so its a lifestyle choice.
MM: What’s your most popular item?
MB: Passionfruit truffles, chocolate turtles and any kind of salted caramels are the most popular, but my personal favorites are vanilla bean, peanut butter cup and the coconut creme brulee. (MM Notes: Sweet Paradise Chocolates also offers custom chocolate designs, perfect for corporate events or weddings.)
MM: What’s the best part of running a retail shop?
MB: You see how happy you make everyone and get direct feedback plus you get to be creative with seasonal decor and packaging which is great fun.
MM: Congratulations on being accepted into the Made in Hawaii festival (coming up in August on Oahu), what’s the goal for this event?
MB: Our goal is to share what we have to offer and make new retail customers and possibly wholesale Contacts. Interisland shipping is reasonable so the short distance should not be an obstacle. We don’t want Oahu to choose second best when our Maui made products are a better choice….go Maui!!
MM: What’s the news with the cacao farm?
MB: We have a few hundred trees in the ground and another 400 to plant out. My future goal is sustainability for our product. It takes time… We hope to start offering tours of the farm in 2014.
MM: Besides the farm, what’s next for Sweet Paradise?
The farm is everything! We are rolling out an Adopt a tree program shortly that will also benefit the Heirloom Cacao Initiative– a global project, and local artists will be involved as well. The farm will be an education center for chocolate. We are the only US state that can grow it, but its not without challenge…the farm is a lifetime project that will evolve and showcase Maui in a positive and memorable way. I would’t want to be doing anything else.
Also we will be doing guided chocolate tastings at Maui Tropical Plantation by September!
MM: What are some of the challenges of running a business in Hawaii?
MB: The high cost of electricity and housing for employees are number one. Next is shipping in things like packaging or shipping out a temperature sensitive product.
MM: Care to share tips for anyone who wants to follow their passion and start a new business?
MB: Go for it! In the challenge you will learn a lot about yourself and meet great people along the way. Stay focused on your dream and don’t give up.
More about Sweet Paradise Chocolate and Hawaii-grown cacao :
Melanie Boudar is a graduate of Ecole Chocolat of Vancouver, Canada, the Artisan Chocolate and Confection Program at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and has studied with some of the finest artisan chocolate makers in North America. Melanie is a multi-year winner of the Judges Choice award of the Kona/ Big Island Chocolate Festival, and she received the 2010 Edible Hawaiian Islands Local Hero Food Artisan Award.
The Hawaiian Islands are the only state in the US that grows cacao. Cacao production in Hawaii is very limited but Sweet Paradise has partnered with several growers to produce a signature Hawaiian chocolate that has a complex flavor profile. They are now able to get fresh roasted, locally grown cacao nibs which add an interesting crunch and bittersweet flavor to regular chocolate.
These chocolates are so beautiful I can’t decide if I want to eat them or hang them on my wall. Just kidding, I want to eat them.