Listen to our audio conversation
[00:00:00] Hey so I am here talking with Doreen Pendgracs, Canada’s chocolate tour expert.
[00:00:11] Hi how are you today.
It seems that you were in Belize recently. It looks like you had a great time. I saw some beach shots Oh wow.
[00:00:22] Yes I was in Belize in November of 2018. I went there specifically for the purpose of learning about the cacao trade and culture in Belize, because of course Belize has lots of Mayan people and the Mayan people are the ones who first were using cacao. So there’s quite an interesting subculture there. Belize is really a growing force in the world of chocolate and cacao.
Doreen also told me about travelling with a writer from Toronto to see some of the cacao producers, with a three-day side trip to the beach in Placencia.
The travellers spent most of their time in Punta Gorda, which is within Toledo District, the heart of cacao country.
[00:01:22] They’re called the Peini Cacao Consortium and they’re the ones who brought me in for this research trip. And so they took us to some of their cocoa farms. They showed us their processing plants and it’s very modern and high tech. Everything’s new.
[00:01:44] There’s a lot of other smaller cacao cooperatives where they’re doing things in more of their traditional way. So I got to see both, which was quite neat. Quite interesting.
[00:01:56] I’m looking at Belize as now being one of the top cacao destinations to visit.
Modern versus Traditional Cocoa Production
Doreen says that most people think of modern European countries like Belgium and Switzerland when they think of chocolate. These countries use large equipment to systematically make large quantities of excellent chocolate.
That’s not what typically happens in the countries where the cacao grows.
[00:02:33] If you go to the countries where the cocoa is grown, most often, it is harvested in small batches by hand. And then, when it’s processed, it’s processed by hand.
[00:02:46] Often they are still crushing the cocoa beans with a rolling pin. You know the old style Mayan rolling pin, which is out of stone. And so they’re crushing it, stone on stone. It’s wonderful because the aromas get emitted as that happens.
[00:03:06] And then it is roasted in the sun. It’s also very pure and fresh. Such a completely different world…When you’re in the jungle and things are being done right with fresh beans that have just been harvested, it’s just a completely different and intoxicating experience.
A Decade Specializing in Chocolate Travel
Doreen evolved her business to specialize in chocolate travel ten years ago. Since then, her activities have expanded beyond writing about chocolate travel to include speaking at chocolate events around the world, including California, Grenada, Mexico and Costa Rica.
She also frequently organizes chocolate and wine tastings and mindfulness experiences featuring chocolate.
Her next expansion: sharing her knowledge on a tour specifically for chocolate lovers.
[00:04:02] Within a year, I’ll be leading my first overseas chocolate trip because I was trying to organize one a couple years ago with a couple of different tour companies and we just couldn’t somehow put it together.
[00:04:17] I’ve been re-approached by one here in Toronto in Canada that I’m really very respectful of and so I think this time we’ll be able to make it work. And now I’ve done a number of other countries since we were talking with them. I think the way to make it work is to go to the jungle to something very pure and real as opposed to going to a more developed country.
After we spoke about her career evolution, we began speaking about some of the amazing chocolate artisans she’s met in this wonderful journey. One of the first is Christophe Morel, who lives not too far from me on the south shore near Montreal. I fell in love with Morel’s voyageur sculpture that Doreen shared in a newsletter to her fans.
Hybrid Chocolate Makers
[00:05:48] Christophe Morel is a real artisan. He works as a chocolate ambassador for Cacao Barry, which of course is out of Paris, and he’s originally from Paris.
Cacao Barry is really neat because they’ve helped create what you call a hybrid chocolate maker.
There are chocolatiers, who work with coverture, and so they are making chocolates their own creations, but they’re not working with the beans. They’re working with a finished product, which they then melt and then make their own chocolates from.
And then there are those chocolate makers who work directly with the beans.
Well, Cacao Barry has a chocolate lab just outside of Paris where chocolatiers can go and actually create their own customized coverture.
And so there’s a lot of chocolate makers now in Canada and throughout the world that are creating their own custom blend through Cacoa Barry and then they’re making their own bars, which are their signature bars.
Say for instance, in Quebec you’ve got Christophe Morel doing that.
And then in New Brunswick, there is Adorable Chocolat in Shediac;
and in Calgary there’s the Chocolate Lab
that is making fantastic chocolate from their own custom blend of couverture that was created by Cacoa Barry in France. It’s amazing.
Carving Out Her Own Niche
After our discussion about hybrid chocolate makers, we began speaking about how difficult it can be to earn a living while writing in Canada. Doreen survived in the industry because she successfully created her own niche in the wider world of travel writing.
At first, she thought about focussing on wine.
“Then I discovered there had been so many books written about wine travel, but nobody had ever done a book on chocolate travel. So I have carved out my own niche. I love that.
But the thing that’s made it difficult though is I’m neither strictly travel and I’m not strictly chocolate so I sometimes fall through the cracks between those two camps. Chocolate companies think I’m writing just about travel and they don’t get that I’m immersed in chocolate. Then travel people or destinations think I’m just playing with chocolate, so they don’t really understand that I created this niche and that it’s now become my profession. I’m doing a series of books on it. I’m very serious about it.
Well, I’ve noticed some new players now in the world that are doing chocolate travel. When I started that, I came up with that catchphrase “chocolate travel.” There was actually one other writer in Florida who was trying to forge that path. But I think she gave up on it because it is hard.
Crowdfunding a Book
Doreen got her start as a chocolate travel expert by crowdfunding her first Chocolatour book. She told me a bit about how that process went
I tell you doing that Indiegogo campaign was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life because it’s so against I think most of our natures to ask people for money. I was talking earlier about travel, but that’s different as opposed to asking people to make donations towards the publication of a book.
That’s what I was doing because in my first volume of Chocolatour, I had 61 colour photographs. I had to use coated paper to produce the book, and that was excessively expensive.
So I raised eight thousand dollars in 30 days, which I was quite proud of.
The eight thousand dollars pretty much covered all my costs for putting out that first volume: hiring a professional editor, Irene the professional designer and a very good quality printer.
I’m a very proud of the book. It won a Readers’ Favorite International Book Award Winner in 2014. So I was quite proud of that.
Running a Creative Business
Then we spoke about the writing marketing mix, and how to succeed as an independent writer.
I’ve struggled with other writers sometimes because sometimes other writers think of writing as strictly being a creative endeavour. They don’t look at it as being a business, but I came to writing from the business world. I worked in corporate communications for a large entity here in Manitoba. And so I came from the business world, and prior to working in communications, I was in underwriting and whatnot.
So when I started my freelance business back in 1993, it was intended to be a business, not just a creative endeavour. And so that’s the way I’ve always looked at my writing as being a business. And it’s a very difficult path to take. But man it’s so fantastic. I love being my own boss. I love what I do. I love the creative process but I also love the people. It’s introduced me to people like you. Fellow writers that I love and adore, but also people in the world of chocolate and the farmers that are growing the cacao and all these wonderful destinations that have opened my eyes to such an amazing role.
I’m so grateful for all those opportunities.
Doreen mentioned that she began her writing career after leaving the insurance business. In fact, she got her first freelance job before even owning a computer.
Right away, I had to get a computer and then I had to learn how to use it because you know I had to start earning income. And since then it’s a very ongoing process, you can never sit back and relax and think hey I’ve got this because it’s constantly changing.
Learning Social Media
Then we got to talking about how difficult it is to learn so many new technologies when you’re older, and our favourite social media channels.
To begin, Doreen spoke about her newfound use of Pinterest.
[00:15:01] It’s become the second largest search engine in the world! I’m going through 10 years of blog posts to optimize images etc. I started that because I was at a TMAC conference (that’s the Travel Media Association of Canada) and the keynote speaker said to all of us there ‘you have to be on Twitter and you have to have a blog, or you’re nowhere.’ So I came away from that conference, and I did both.
I started the Twitter account right away, but then I started working on getting my blog up and running. And so that’s 10 years ago now. So I’m slowly going through all my posts and adding a pin properly. A properly-constructed pin. People have a Pinterest account they just pin anything. But you’ve got to have vertical images with great text across them explaining what they are so that people can find things easily and so that’s been my latest technology learning.
Doreen said that she started her first blog on Blogger and then moved to WordPress, where it remains.
Hiring Professional Help
Doreen has hired several professionals to make sure her online presence works, particularly her blog.
It’s quite sophisticated and it’s all thanks to Sheryl from behind the scenes. She’s really done a tremendous job for me making my site look professional and global.
[00:18:00] And then I had a Montreal based designer. Her name is Jennifer Cooke. She has designed this beautiful chocolate globe as my logo. And I love it because it absolutely exemplifies what I do. The World of Chocolate glows. She’s so amazing. I love her.
Building a Following
Doreen says that she became quite serious about building her social media following over the past decade.
[00:19:53]Once in a while, I do like a sponsored post a page post on one of my blog posts where if I mention it on my author’s page on Facebook, I may have to pay 10 bucks or whatever to have some extra exposure on it. And I do that once in a while if it’s a really important post that I want more people to see. I will pay to play kind of thing.
But not normally I don’t, because I’ve got a personal Facebook page. An authors page. I’ve got Twitter, where I’ve got 13 and a half thousand followers. Then I’ve got Pinterest where I’m up to about an 82,000 in a reach. Not followers, because most people on Pinterest don’t follow, but they have this organic reach that happens when you post to group boards and that’s how I’ve met my range up to 82,000, which I’m very happy with. So again that’s a new thing that I have to learn and really massage and tweak till I found that it’s sort of starting to work for me. I envy the young people who are just coming in and all this just comes so easy to them whereas people like you and I’ve been around a lot longer.
[00:21:10] It’s hard. I can really understand why older people shy away from this stuff because it’s mind-boggling.
[00:21:22] They really do spend I’d say a couple of hours a day just on social media. It’s part of my business. It’s part of what I do. You know, I know that some people pay people to do social media postings and commenting for them, but I don’t believe in doing that because what I stand for is authenticity. And so in all my writing, it’s all experiential. It’s all about being authentic.
So I have no interest in paying somebody to represent me on social media. I don’t like that approach.
Nor do I use automated posting. I know some people do and maybe it works for them but I really believe in being real. So I’m real.
Creating a Brand
We then discussed a lot about how our approach to social media and marketing combine to create a brand for our fans.
[00:23:33] There are so many different ways you can tweak things. Whatever to “create your own authentic or whatever” online personality, it takes a lot of strategy and a lot of work to do that.
It’s been ten years now that I’ve really been actively creating my brand or author platform. I remember when I was trying to get a publisher or an agent 10 years ago, when I was starting Chocolatour. Everybody said oh you don’t have a big enough platform. You know you haven’t got any kind of brand recognition.
So I have spent the last ten years really quite actively working on that. That’s why I invested quite heavily in hiring, as we mentioned, Jennifer Cook to do a beautiful online presence for me. The logo and banner is consistent across all social media platforms so that people can recognize me easily. And I think that that’s really helped build my brand and I’m continuing to to do different things to get my name out there so that when my next book comes out, which will be this year, that will be a lot easier process than it was for the first one where I was quite an unknown entity even though that was my fourth book.
Fifth Book Coming
This will be my fifth, and I like it it’s you can never rest on our laurels.
Well, I’ve got a stick with Chocolatour because that is my brand. It will be the subtitle that will be a work in progress. I’ve got so many different subtitles that I’m throwing around in my mind and so I may ask my readers to vote on the top six.
You know what because I am my own boss and because I’m in full control of this book I’m not going to rush myself. I really intended to have it out last year and then my husband’s health took a really bad turn for the worse and we had to get into the public care system and that took so much out of me. And now he’s safe and he’s stable and now he can get back into my own work and my life. But I don’t want to push myself too much because it takes the fun out of it.
[00:28:17] And you know chocolate has to be fun right. If there is no fun in chocolate then why bother so I’m not going to push myself.
[00:28:24] I’m going to work it at my own speed and hopefully it will be out. By summer, I’m hoping to have the ebook out and the printed version by fall. That’s my goal and I hope I will be able to achieve it.
[00:28:39] I am already working with a person who is very good at ebook conversions and we’re starting on the second volume already. She’s merging the A to Z guide for volume 1 with the new A-Z guide from volume 2 to create a mega A-Z guide which will be an integral part of volume two. So she’s working on that right now. A lot of what I’ve put on my blog will be migrated into the new book. You know the highlights and other information that I didn’t put on the blog. So I’ve got a lot of data already in progress and then I just got an update. Some chapters like the health benefits chapter will be updated because that’s such an important chapter. It will be a key chapter on sustainability and important issues like that.
[00:29:28] But then also some of the fun stuff like chocolate spas, which are now an obsession of mine.
Lucky to be Canadian
[00:30:41] I am as Canadian as you can be.
[00:30:58] I was born and raised in Winnipeg and I have lived just outside of Winnipeg my entire life. Well I mean I moved outside of the city in 1982 because I love to be connected with nature. And I found being in the city, it was just too much hustle and bustle. So I live an hour out of the city now and I absolutely love it and right by Lake Winnipeg. It’s a resort community but it just keeps me so connected with nature.
That’s what I really love about Canada is that we do have so much natural world out there and it’s not just filled with mega buildings and noise pollution.
I belong to Toastmasters. Toastmaster this week was talking about how bad the pollution in the big cities is. I don’t know if you heard this or not, but babies in Delhi India begin getting lung cancer the day they are born. And they are having many many people now, young people age 18 and whatnot, getting lung cancer in in some of these large cities like Delhi, Mexico City whatever. Because the babies are born were inhaling polluted air from the moment they touched this earth.
[00:32:14] So how lucky we are to be in Canada, where we have clean air and I have my own well my own fresh water and I just feel so in control in my life because of that. I have clean air and clean water, And I’m so grateful to God that I help that at my disposal. That I have that to keep me safe and happy and in touch with people that care about each other and about nature and about the world.
Office a Writers’ Haven
[00:32:57] I have a modest home but I love it.
I work in my loft upstairs here; my artist loft. My writers’ haven here. With great big beautiful windows. And I just feel so connected to nature because I have a little deck of my office on the second floor here. If I ever just want to step out, I’ve got a screen door that I have open three seasons of the year. I just love it. I’m so grateful that I have this beautiful world to live in.
I live in Manitoba and I’m open to the world now, via my Web site, Chocolatour.
You can get a hold of me there. There’s a contact page there’s a couple of pages that talk about me as an individual and about Chocolatour the brand and they contain slideshows.
I encourage people to take some time to visit the about pages, especially the about page on Chocolatour has quite an extensive slideshow and the one about Doreen does as well, but a smaller one. They give you an insight as to my world of chocolate travel and the world of chocolate and cacao that I’m trying to share with the world.