Plains to Peak Chocolate Company is run by Sunni Sylvester and her husband Jeff. The two did not always have aspirations to make their own chocolate, but like many businesses today, a simple passion and idea can be all it takes to start something great. The direction of your business career can be random, and that is exactly what happened with Sunni and Jeff.
“We started randomly. I would buy chocolate, look at the ingredients, and question the fillers in the chocolate. This led me to do some research and experimenting, and eventually I figured out how to make chocolate using the whole cacao bean,” said Sunni. “Now, we make our own bean to bar chocolate. We roast the beans at home, we crack them, winnow them to get the nibs, grind the nibs, add the coconut sugar, temper it, mold it, and hand wrap every one of our bars.”
A couple of years ago, when Plains to Peak was just an idea sprouting into action, Sunni decided to reach out to Boulder SBDC. Sunni, a registered nurse who still works full time, and Jeff, a designer working for the Saint Vrain School District in Longmont, did not have much of a business background when starting Plains to Peak. According to Sunni, “I didn’t understand how to set up an LLC, how to pay taxes, or any of that stuff, so I reached out to the SBDC. In our first meeting, [an SBDC staff member] listened to our story and aspirations, and later that same evening sent me steps on how to establish an LLC, and how to register with the state and the city. These clear steps were exactly what I needed.”
The Boulder SBDC places a large emphasis on maintaining relationships with its clients, and encourages attending our workshops, which is what Sunni and Jeff did. They took both Startup Roadmap and Startup Essentials workshops through SBDC, which Sunni described as “invaluable.” Sunni further explained “Since the workshops, we have reached out to one of your presenters several times, just asking for assistance with setting up the legal parts of the business. She has been very responsive, very supportive, and very helpful for us.”
As Plains to Peak Chocolate continued to develop, they began to think about the expansion process. Expanding a business can be extremely difficult if you do not have an explicit plan, and a strong grasp on finances. The SBDC set Sunni up with a consultant to talk over any expansionary plans. Sunni reflects, “The consultant talked to us about scaling, getting investors, taking out loans, our different options, and what we had to be ready for if and when we wanted to expand. It gave us reassurance that we were on the right path and that being cautious and using income right now to save up for our business down the road was a good idea.”
A further step the SBDC took to help Plains to Peak was connect Sunni and Jeff with other people who were in the process of setting up their business, and who are in different stages of growth. According to Sunni, “This helped us talk about scaling, and potentially getting a commercial space. Hearing how other people expanded their businesses was huge for us.” Sunni continued, “Someday we could see ourselves teaming up with other small food producers and maybe share a space. We’re always having those conversations and keeping our eyes open for opportunities.”
Right now Sunni and Jeff sell their chocolate every Saturday at the Longmont farmers market. They have come a long way since their initial decision to start selling chocolate. They have invested in new equipment to make production easier and truly feel that they are experiencing success. The two understand that while working under cottage foods law they can only sell direct to consumers, but they are looking to add more markets to their repertoire this year. They are constantly reevaluating their goals, and remaining cautious, but are very excited to grow their business and maintain their values.