Lavanya “Lala” Selvaraj and Neethu Viswanath have been inseparable since middle school. Even after moving apart, they did not let long distance hinder their friendship. While most friends might text or email nowadays to stay in contact, these gals decided to make artisan chocolate together but separately. We got the chance to chat with Lala, one of the founders of Two Friends Chocolate, and hear the story behind their delectable handcrafted sweets!
What’s story behind Two Friends Chocolate?
My friend, Neethu, and I have been friends since middle school. We moved from south India to the UK to do our Masters together in engineering.
We came across a lot of gourmet truffles while we were in Europe and seeking out new ones became a hobby for us. Neethu LOVES chocolate – she would even have it for breakfast! For me, I am an explorer; cooking is my passion and I like to play with different flavors. We would try milk chocolate in Switzerland and compare its taste to the ones we’ve had before in India.
Then we both got married and Neethu moved to Toronto while I moved to Boxborough, MA. The first year after Neethu moved to Canada, I sent her some handmade truffles for her birthday. She asked me, “Where did you buy that? I’ve never tasted anything like this before!” From then on, we decided to keep in touch by starting a chocolate company together!
What are some challenges you face in running your business?
Being small batch, our cost is much higher than other manufacturers’ so it can be hard to keep up sometimes. Another challenge is having to explain bean-to-bar unique. When you tell a customer you MAKE the chocolate, it’s difficult to relay to them the extensive process that goes behind it. But customers are curious what all-natural chocolate tastes like and want to see it for themselves. It’s that “a-ha” moment when they try it for themselves and say, “Ooh, I see what they mean!” that motivates us.
What are your business values?
We only buy fairtrade chocolate and we don’t use any artificial ingredients in our chocolate. We choose organic and local whenever we can and we take our time to check that our sources are ethical. We also scout for the best cacao chips, spices and liquor globally depending on what flavor profile we’re trying to create.
How do you and Neethu work together if you two live so far apart?
We would discuss recipes via Skype and, occasionally, we would fly to meet each other halfway. The chocolate found in the U.S. in made in my kitchen while the ones made in Canada is crafted by Neethu.
What makes your chocolate special?
We are different from others so automatically our products are different! Coming from different cultures, background and knowledge, we don’t shy away from unique flavors. Even our newspaper packaging and handpainted chocolate are not things you see everyday. Whatever flavor we do, we try to represent that in the chocolate designs. For example, our Elder Flower Liquor truffle are adorned with flowers. Our Valentine truffles are made with champagne so they are handpainted pink and gold. We want to customers to visually see the flavors before buying them.
What do the words “small batch” and handcrafted mean to you? How do they apply to your products?
With small batch, you know what goes in there, you are sure what you’re making and what the end crowd is getting. If you are producing by mass, it’s impossible to do it by hand! You’ll have to rely on the machine, which means you can’t control the flavor that comes out.
How do you get inspiration for the flavors of your chocolate?
It happens spontaneously; like when I see tea while shopping, sometimes I imagine how it would taste with chocolate. One time, I went to a pub and they served me a floral cocktail and I thought to myself, “This is so good! Why can’t we try this with chocolate?” So then I bought the same liquor and brought it back home to experiment with. Another time, I wanted to buy some apricots but the grocery stores didn’t have any. I didn’t want to get any other dry fruits because they all had preservatives in them. I ended up buying some fresh Turkish figs to caramelize for the chocolate and they were a hit!