Widow Jane And Cacao Prieto
A 15 minutes drive took us close to 75 minutes for us to get into Brooklyn and we were getting antsy cooped up in the car for so long. Last weeks snow was still causing havoc on NYC streets. My brothers, father, & I really didn’t know much about where we were going or what we would be doing. We only had an address in Red Hook and name – Cacao Prieto. Red Hook is gritty, industrial, with graffiti art, tea, wine, and pottery shops. A place where you can see two worlds colliding.
As we round the final corner we see a giant mural of a farmer harvesting grain calling out Widow Jane Distillery. We still are not sure if we’re at the right place but a sign tells us we are. Both Widow Jane Distillery & Cacao Prieto are housed in an old red brick Dutch building. We’re close to the waterfront with Lady Liberty behind us. Still a bit confused and amazed at the sight and the site. Some others that we met there were all positively impressed. As we all cup our hands around our eyes to peer into this cavernous warehouse where they make bourbon and chocolate.
Inside we meet Daniel, who sold his aerospace company to a defense contractor and is now CEO, Head Engineer, and Founder of these two brands – Widow Jane & Cacao Prieto. Who knew that a guy that just wanted to trace his roots back to the Dominican Republic would go from aerospace to farmer to distiller and chocolatier to disrupting the way cacao is harvested in the D.R. Seriously his parents, (we got to meet his dad John) must’ve been scratching their heads saying, “But you’re an engineer and you want to do what!?!”
Along with Daniel we met Roger a quiet guy and Head Chocolatier who we only found out at the end of the day has worked at three Michelin Stars rated restaurants in NYC and rising to the top in each. An artist in his craft he carries himself with a humble demeanor allowing his art to speak for him.
Can you tell I’m impressed by these two Dominican kids? Who have been awarded top honors for their small batch Widow Jane Straight Bourbon Whiskey and Cacao Prieto artisanal chocolate. But if that doesn’t impress you the way their harvest and source their cacao will.
For generations cacao in the D.R. has worked in sort of a feudal system. Come on think back to history class. It’s OK I didn’t remember what a feudal system was until my 6th grade daughter, Isabella, reminded me. Basically in medieval times when the Serfs would farm all their land and sell the crop to the Lords. Who just so happened to own all the land and gave out loans on consignment against the Serfs crop who then would buy equipment, food, & housing all the while getting taxed for their work. The Lords essentially kept all those below him in indefinite servitude. Unfortunately that is still a bit how it works today in the D.R. with the exception that the farmers now may own their plot of land.
Widow Jane & Cacao Prieto in their two years of existence have now disrupted that model. Sourcing all the cacao it needs for its chocolate and bourbon directly from the farmers. They are paying the farmers a premium, teaching how to properly cultivate and get the highest yield from their crop . All of which puts more money into the farmers pocket allowing them to payoff their loans, buy better equipment, employ more people, move from wood structures to their own version of the “Taj Mahal” as Daniel put it.
Cacao is a part of Daniel who has a close tie to it. His family has harvested cacao and been in the same perpetual cycle as the many farmers he is now helping. Being an engineer gave him an unfair advantage as he has seen first hand how technology can be used to improve lives while effectively changing an age old system to efficiently grow organic single source cacao from the Dominican Republic.
Widow Jane & Cacao Prieto are using entrepreneurship, technology and a desire to teach and elevate the farmers into the 21st century. Going so far as to branding each chocolate bar to the individual farmer. A true sustainable business indeed.