Dark chocolate, rich in antioxidants and other nutrients, can have positive health benefits, according to numerous studies. After his physician recommended eating dark chocolate, Rio Grande Valley entrepreneur Anthony Matulewicz started experimented with making it in his home kitchen.
Today, he is three years into a journey to turn a private passion into a viable business with Mozna Chocolate, a small but growing dark chocolate factory in the border town of Hidalgo.
“How much of it is really true, the jury is still out,” Matulewicz said about health benefits. “Does it have a lot of antioxidants and some other good stuff? Yes. But the one thing that it does, and what we are trying to sell, is if you have some 70-percent cocoa chocolate after dinner, it’s going to take care of your sugar rush. So that by itself may be a health benefit.”
Matulewicz, the son of Polish immigrants who grew up in Mexico, and his Saudi Arabian friend Hassan Mulla bought a dilapidated building in Hidalgo with a reputation as a crack house. They figured the parking lot area of the property alone was worth the purchase price for the entire parcel.
“I thought I should buy it,” he said. “It was too good of a deal to pass. At that time, I was thinking a chocolate factory.” Mulla offered to go in as a partner and Matulewicz accepted. “He gets out his checkbook and writes me a check for 50 percent of the investment.”
As work began to renovate the building into a modern facility, Matulewicz embarked on a global quest for knowledge of chocolate. “For about a year I traveled throughout the world, going and talking to the best chocolate makers in the world. I would sit down with them and say, ‘This is what I am trying to do. How do you make it?’”
He connected with a longtime Mexico City chocolate maker that had been bought out by food giant Nestle. “So I was able to get their equipment, and the equipment was in pristine condition, some of it over a hundred years old and just as good today as it was a hundred years ago.”
The vintage equipment was a perfect fit with Matulewicz’s goal to make chocolate the old-fashioned way. “We wanted to have the capabilities of a mass-produced chocolate with the qualities of an artesano chocolate, which is what we ended up getting.”
During three years of experimentation, Mozna developed several products, such as bars and bites and for making hot chocolate, that are sold in Valley farmers markets and through the company website. The dark chocolate is crafted with 70 percent cocoa from beans imported from Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Tanzania, India and Vietnam. Like coffee beans, the flavor of cocoa beans varies depending on geography, soil, altitude and other factors. The only other ingredients in Mozna chocolate are cane sugar and cocoa butter extracted from the beans.
“We buy from the small growers,” Matulewicz said. “We go there, we talk to the growers, we set the price. I pretty much give instructions to the growers on how we want it fermented.”
With cocoa sources in place and a line of products, Mozna Chocolate is expanding its marketing efforts. “We want to start going full blown,” Matulewicz said. “We are to the point we have hired two people to help us with the marketing.”
They will be working first to place Mozna products in retail outlets, with an ultimate goal of establishing the company’s own stores. “Our original idea was to have our own points of sale,” Matulewicz said. “That’s probably what we will end up doing but right now we need to pay the bills.” And the company is continuing to develop new products using the dark chocolate such a protein bar, and an energy bar is in the works.
Matulewicz said the feedback from local farmers market customers and beyond has been positive. Mozna won a bronze medal in a European chocolate competition last year. “And we did sell some in Germany and the Germans just placed another order.”