This is the first profile in a series of “Women in Chocolate,” where we’ll highlight other women who own chocolate businesses. First up is Victoria Kichuk of Cocoa Beantown in Boston, an easy drive from Chocolate Riot’s western Massachusetts location.
Victoria Kichuk has always had a knack for remembering trivia facts which, she admits, “typically only come in handy if you get chosen to be on a game show.” However, her love for fun facts has made her perfectly suited for running Cocoa Beantown, her chocolate-touring company. (Boston’s longtime nickname is Beantown — referencing the sweet, slow-baked beans that Boston became famous for in the 18th century.) Cocoa Beantown is “a chocolate tour and tasting experiences company” that, in a pre-pandemic world, hosted walking-and-tasting tours of chocolate in Boston, as well as private tasting events.
However, during the pandemic, Victoria has been getting creative about how to keep Cocoa Beantown going even when she can’t gather groups to create experiences together. Instead of letting stay-at-home orders get her down, “I try to re-pivot and look at it as a great test of my creative brainstorming.” She has been pleasantly surprised by how many people have been engaging with her online through Facebook, where she hosts weekly educational and interactive livestreams on topics related to chocolate. “So many people who haven’t even been on tours have been tuning into livestreams and commenting that they want to go on a tour once we’re able to offer them again.”
One of her biggest successes during quarantine was her virtual Easter egg hunt. She brought some colorful plastic Easter eggs to a local park and took photos of them from far away to create an Easter-themed, real-life Where’s Waldo puzzle. Participants could pay $5 to enter the hunt and whoever first sent back the pictures with all the Easter eggs correctly circled won a chocolate goody basket. She received such positive and encouraging feedback from all over the country that she’s considered making the virtual Easter egg hunt an annual tradition. She also might bring back the Easter egg hunt in October, and put a Halloween twist on it.
Victoria knows the rich chocolate history of Massachusetts in depth. For example, the chocolate chip cookie is the official state cookie of Massachusetts, because they were invented by Ruth Graves in Whitman, MA in 1939. (That’s right––chocolate chip cookies have only been around for just over 80 years!) Another historic gem is that Paul Revere, a silversmith by trade, made silver drinking sets for hot chocolate, one of which is on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Beyond the fun facts and the delicious chocolate, Cocoa Beantown tours are about bringing joy to people’s lives. Victoria believes that you never know what might be going on in someone’s life, and that “you can always make someone feel better or worse, so why not make them feel better?” Victoria has had many tour participants express to her that the tour was the first joyful experience they’ve had after a difficult time in their lives. One college student invited his mom on a tour and emailed Victoria later that day to let her know that his mom had smiled more on the tour than she had in a long time. Because of Boston’s many world-class hospitals, it’s common for people to go on tours while in town to receive medical treatment, and so the tours can provide a short escape from reality. To Victoria, chocolate isn’t about gluttony or indulgence––it’s about creating joy and bringing a smile to people’s faces, especially those who might need it the most.