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By Kerri Jackson Case
In 2008, Christine Doerr was having a career identity crisis. She was 40, and needed to decide what she really wanted to do. She’d spent more than a decade as a pastry chef. She’d spend most of another decade as a graphic designer.
“I asked myself, what would I do, even if it paid nothing?” Doerr said. “The answer was this.”
“This” turned out to be Neo Cocoa, a San Francisco Bay are-based truffle confectioner named on of the “Top Ten Chocolatiers in North America” by Dessert Professional.
“When I’m in the kitchen, and I pour the ganache into a frame, and add the topping…the whole process is very Zen,” mused Doerr. “Every day is not like coming to work, it’s like coming to play.”
Doerr began working in chocolate at 17 years old, when got her first job in a sweet shop. She went on to graduate from California Culinary Academy. “I was in a butchery class in school, and I remember thinking I belong in the candy kitchen,” she said.
She spent the next 10 years as a pastry chef, working for others. When she was doing graphic design work, she missed that candy kitchen. So she began to experiment and work her way back, this time creating a unique contribution to the confection world.
The eventual company name came to represent what she was creating. Neo Cocoa literally translates to “new chocolate.” The Neo Cocoa truffle is like no other truffle available. It has no hard chocolate shell. All you get is melt-in-your mouth ganache.
The Neo Cocoa product line consists of 11 flavors of truffle, including one seasonal offering. They are available in assortment boxes or single-flavor boxes. Doerr reports, far and away the fan favorite and best seller is salted caramel. “I thought people might get over it, but they really haven’t,” she explained. “It must be the flavor complexity of the salt and sweet.”
The company continues to grow and do well. Doerr employs two other people. Her mom is an honorary employee, who pitches in with help packaging during the busy holiday season.
“When I was putting together my business plan to start this company,” Doerr recalled, “there was always the question: What need are you filling? I never knew exactly how to answer that until I started to see how people reacted to what I was making, I fill the need to give a gift that’s more than a box of chocolates, it’s an experience.”
Fortunately, Doerr is not content to rest on her success. She’s looking to the future at new product offerings, including new flavors and chocolate bars.
“I genuinely love what I do,” she said. “I’m lucky to do it.”