Daily Chocolate owner gets sweet surprise — an award nomination

VERGENNES — Daily Chocolate co-owner Jennifer Roberts had no plans to pursue one of Martha Stewart’s 10 annual American Made Awards.
In fact, Roberts had never heard of the honors until her younger brother, Evan, with whom she had grown up in Cornwall but who now lives in New Hampshire, told her this summer he was nominating her Vergennes business and had started filling out the online forms.
“I don’t know how he found out,” she said. “I just saw something come up on our shared email, and I looked at it and I edited some of the stuff. He had to answer questions, and because I knew how to answer the questions better than he does, I edited it and put in some photos and stuff like that, and it was just a matter of filling out a questionnaire.”
Judges from Stewart’s magazine then looked over the application and determined Daily Chocolate met criteria that include creativity, customer value, quality of materials, customer satisfaction, craftsmanship, visual appeal, use of local components and community engagement.
They named Daily Chocolate one of about 1,000 total finalists in four categories: food, design, crafts and style.
Judges also chose three other Addison County businesses as finalists — Bee’s Wrap and Vermont Honey Lights in Bristol, and Maple Landmark Woodcraft in Middlebury.
Bee’s Wrap is a company that produces beeswax-coated cloths used for food storage. Founder Sarah Kaeck said her products are more environmentally friendly than using plastic containers, plastic wrap or tin foil. Vermont Honey Lights is a small mother-daughter business that sells hand-molded and poured candles made from 100 percent beeswax. The Main Street store run by Shawna Sherwin and Bonita Bedard, features only U.S.-made home decor, body care products and gifts.
For 35 years, Maple Landmark, led by Mike and Barbara Rainville, has been making high-quality toys, gifts and games.
Judges will choose nine winners, and an online vote will pick the 10th. Each winner gets $10,000; a trip to the Nov. 7 and 8 “American Made Summit” in New York City, including the awards show; and chances for exposure in the Martha Stewart media empire.
There are other Vermont nominees, two in a “Sweets” subcategory that includes Roberts’ business, but she is not sure how well a chocolate shop in Vergennes (population about 2,600) will fare in an online vote.
“It will be interesting to see how it goes,” said Roberts, 37, who owns the Green Street business with husband Judd Markowski; they live in Bridport. “I imagine that there are people with a lot more ability to promote themselves than me and publicize themselves in ways that would get more votes and more notice.”
Roberts plans to have a red Martha Stewart ribbon with the voting link on her website — www.dailychocolate.net — this week and hopes for support from her host community as well as those who buy her products at other outlets in Middlebury, Shelburne and Burlington.
“You will be able to go online and there will be some sort of form you can click on,” she said. 
Although traditionally most new Daily Chocolate customers since Roberts bought the store in a 2009 family deal have come by word of mouth, Roberts doesn’t mind the media exposure.
She has noticed at least a short-term bump in sales when she appeared on WCAX-TV to promote the Vermont Wine Association’s Wine and Chocolate Weekend and on VPR’s “Vermont Edition.”
“The vast majority of our new customers are people who have been told to come here,” Roberts said. “I’m always interested to see how much media helps in the long run. There’s always a surge.”
Any impact might also be hard to evaluate because Roberts and Markowski have also worked hard to expand the wholesale end of the business, which now accounts for 40 percent of its revenue.
“We went into it knowing we had to grow the business,” she said.
That also means that, unlike in the past, Roberts cannot put a face to all who buy from the array of the shop’s dark, milk and white chocolate products — she lists black rum caramels, peppermint patties and lemon lavender white chocolate bark as top sellers  — and that means it’s difficult to evaluate how customers discover Daily Chocolate’s handmade, all-natural products.
“I have so many customers that I never see,” Roberts said.
Regardless, Daily Chocolate has expanded to the point — even though Roberts notes she and Markowski took over the business a year into the recession — that it supports the couple.
“We made it work,” she said. “The business has sustained our lifestyle.”
Running a shop is not exactly where Roberts thought she would end up. She earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and a teaching degree from Johnson State, but opted instead for landscaping, cross-country ski instruction, and working at former Vergennes grocery The Fat Hen before she and Markowski bought Daily Chocolate from a sister-in-law, Fleur Mahoney.
But looking back, Roberts said the move made sense — she always loved food and cooking. As a teen, Roberts would not offer typical birthday or Christmas gifts to her parents.
“I would give them a five-course meal for them and their friends,” she said. “I would make these elaborate meals for these adults, and I would dress my brother up as a waiter, and he would have to wait on everybody. I made it very elaborate. We would have all sorts of things, palate-cleansers. I was very into that.”
And Roberts has not regretted her and Markowski’s decision to buy Daily Chocolate. 
“It’s a fun job,” she said. I’ve always kind of thought it’s one of the few service industry jobs where people are always happy.”
To vote for a local nominee visit the Martha Stewart American Made website.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]

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