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Monday, July 2, 2012

MOVERS and SHAKERS: Pam Cooper, Founder of Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory Our Coverage Sponsored by Cosmopolitan Dental, Official Dentist of Whom You Know

Pam Cooper

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A native of Raleigh, North Carolina, Pam Cooper moved to Hawaii with her husband, Bob, in 1997. A former legal secretary and office manager at a jewelry retailer, Pam came to the Big Island of Hawaii to retire and enjoy the good life at the couple’s new sprawling estate on the slopes of Mt. Hualalai.

Thoughts of retirement soon vanished after the couple learned their Kona property had a cacao orchard—the cacao tree produces the cherished beans used to make chocolate. And so after some research and investment, Pam rolled up her sleeves and committed to a plan—opening Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory (OHCF) and being the first tree-to-bar chocolate operation in the nation. It wasn’t easy, but Pam and Bob succeeded, and their OHCF is known worldwide for its delicious milk, dark and rare criollo chocolate that she proudly claims “is made in Hawaii, made in the USA.”

In fact, Pam has become somewhat of a celebrity on the Big Island with her several TV appearances and mentions in national publications, including USA Today on February 12. Last week, she and Bob appeared on Alton Brown’s “Good Eats” on TV’s Food Network and she has been seen on Discovery Channel’s “American Heartland.” Pam often travels among the Hawaiian Islands, spreading the word about her chocolate and offering free tastes at shows and festivals, including the upcoming Hawaii Chocolate Festival in Honolulu.

Besides serving as OHCF’s accountant, Pam combines a gracious, Southern demeanor with a heaping dose of aloha spirit to act as hostess of OHCF plantation tours. Always wearing a smile, she offers chocolate samples and answers questions during the weekly tours every Wednesday and Friday while husband Bob guides visitors through the growing, processing and chocolate-making operation. “This is our home and we treat visitors as guests,” she said, adding that she has helped tour attendees with activity reservations and other tasks.

That helpful attitude carries over into the growing of cacao, as Pam and Bob have inspired others to start orchards and have taught classes through the University of Hawaii’s extension service. Last fall, she was invited to join Les Dames d’Escoffier, a worldwide philanthropic society of distinguished professional women in the fields of food and hospitality.

Helping others is definitely part of Pam’s persona on the Big Isle. She donates time, talent and treasured chocolate to a host of events that benefit a variety of causes including the American Culinary Federation’s (ACF) Kona Kohala Chefs Assn. Pam participates in ‘Q’uisine of Hearts, a Valentine fundraiser for child nutrition awareness and Christmas at the Fairmont-Dining with the Chef, a holiday gala benefitting culinary scholarships at the local community college. Pam also contributes her attractive chocolate plumerias and one-pound Big Kahuna bars to a host of events throughout the year.

Whether working on the farm or volunteering at community events, Pam Cooper lives her motto, “Chocolate is Aloha!” We are so pleased to present Pam Cooper as our latest Mover and Shaker. Peachy Deegan interviewed Pam for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: What is your first memory of chocolate? 
Pam Cooper: 
Bob and I were talking about this last night and he helped jog my memory. When I was a child in the 50's, my family had a summer place next to a seafood market in Swansboro, N.C. We went down there and picked out whatever we wanted: Cokes, Snickers, M & Ms, etc., and we’d write it down on the wall on a little pad (like a credit card)…and our parents went down there later and paid the tab. It’s called trust….But my first impressive memory of chocolate is when we bought our farm in Hawaii and started learning about cacao and all the wonderful things chocolate is about. 

How would you compare and contrast North Carolina and Hawaii? 
Southern hospitality and aloha are very much alike. As for being different, the mountains and seashore are 8 hours apart in N.C., though both beautiful. In Hawaii, they’re right together. 

How is tree-to-bar defined please and what makes it different from other processes of chocolate harvesting? 
Simply put, we actually grow the tree that makes the bean. We don’t start out with the bean; we start with the tree that produces the cacao bean…so we also have an orchard operation. The rest of the industry, even other single-origin chocolate makers, buy their beans, already fermented and dried. We to do all that processing too. 

What should most people know about chocolate that they don't know? 
How nutritious it really is...cacao, the essence of chocolate, is one of the highest foods with antioxidants…it’s a food with good fat, sugar and protein in a natural form. 

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence? 
I’m pretty much a perfectionist, but I’ve always admired my husband, Bob, and how he always wants to do his best in everything and for everyone. 

What are you proudest of and why? 
I’m really proud of the way we have lived our lives. We’re still married after 42 years. We work hard and feel it’s an honor to be here in Hawaii—it’s such a beautiful place. We’ve been given an opportunity to start a new industry for the state and we’ve given back to the community by teaching others to grow cacao, while sharing our experience making chocolate. 

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do? 
I’d like to go around and visit all the people who sell or use our chocolate and find out what their needs are….we used to do this for growing the chocolate, but I’d like to talk to the chefs and retailers now.

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan? 
Thanks for the memories!!!! It’s been 25 plus years ago that we used to shop for Haydon & Company, in Raleigh to gather fabulous jewelry and high end items for their gift shop. The anticipation of this exhilarating, exciting and educational place was only surpassed by being there. From
fabulous dining, shows, taxi rides, brings a smile to my face. Arousing 
childhood memories of the ferry ride to the Statue of Liberty and actually going to the top of the Empire State building. Needless to say, don’t remember specific names other than Centro Vasco for lobster!!! 

What is your favorite drink? 
Just a simple gin and tonic with a slice of Hawaiian lime. Medicinal you know, the tonic helps with leg cramps. 

Who would you like to be for a day and why? 
I would have liked to have met Mother Teresa or the Dali Lama…but I would just as soon be me and go to the beach with a good book. I love the water. I’m a Pisces with Neptune rising. 

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience? 
We walked everywhere, or took a taxi. You haven’t lived until you’ve taken a taxi in Manhattan. 

If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would it be and why? 
The Dali Lama to gather knowledge about his spiritual, peaceful path. 

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world? 
Aside from the chocolate industry effort already mentioned, I consider myself a good friend and a good listener. 

What do you think is most underrated and overrated here? 
We were invited to New York around 2007 by Pastry Chef Ralph Perrazo, who was using our chocolate. He did a demo and we got to introduce our OHC to New York. I am most impressed with New York’s energy and its amazing people. We were freezing and a concierge from a hotel that we weren’t even staying at told us to stay under the portage with heat and he hailed a taxi for us from over a block away. Yes, we did give him chocolate! 

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite 
Whom You Know column and what do you like about it? 
Champagne Wishes, where you first talked about Star Vodka, and its creator, Charles Ferri, and the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen in Charitable Peachy. They serve 1,200 meals every weekday! I liked how he celebrated his birthday with a benefit for the kitchen!  [Note from Peachy: Maybe you can put the vodka in the chocolate?]

Have you drank The Peachy Deegan yet and if not, why not? 
I hope to make it soon and try it. I need the Vodka and I haven’t seen it in Hawaii. 

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers? 
I want them to order chocolate at! Contact is or visit us on Facebook and see what others say about us…OR come see us in Hawaii!

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