As the founder and owner of Cocoa Asante, Ella Livingston is changing the world one chocolate at a time. Founded in 2018, Cocoa Asante is a locally owned chocolate company that specializes in truffles, bars and bonbons — with cacao sourced directly from Ghana.
I sat down with Ella Livingston while she hand-folded her chocolate boxes to learn more about her story and experience as an entrepreneur. Born in Ghana, Livingston moved to the United States at age three. She attended Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, and moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 2016 to follow her passion for teaching.
Livingston had been involved in tutoring and teaching since high school. The idea for Cocoa Asante began while she was studying abroad in Japan. After discovering how impactful Ghanaian chocolate was globally, Livingston decided to expand on her idea and follow her dream of bringing quality chocolate to Chattanooga.
She started Cocoa Asante while she was a full-time teacher. A new priority came when Livingston became a mother during the early stages of her business. She explains that her goal at that time was to grow Cocoa Asante enough that she could hire help — allowing her to teach, run a business and be a parent at the same time. Livingston then began teaching part-time to focus on expanding Cocoa Asante. She wanted the freedom to raise her daughter, and Cocoa Asante provided her with the opportunity.
Running a business offered many challenges. For a period, Livingston was selling chocolates from her home. She soon grew too big for her kitchen but struggled to fund the necessary expansion. She was eventually able to move to a shared kitchen space. However, because of the pandemic, it was no longer safe to work in a shared environment.
With help from the INCubator, Cocoa Asante now operates out of a commercial kitchen that allows COVID-19 precautions and provides ample space for her business to grow. This expansion enables Livingston to follow her mission of affecting global change.
Livingston explains that cocoa bean farmers in Ghana earn around 6% of profits from farms but provide almost half of the work needed to harvest the beans. Cocoa is one of Ghana’s main exports, but many farmers like Livingston’s family are not able to sustain themselves through farming alone.
Armed with a mission to affect change for these cocoa farmers, Cocoa Asante sources its chocolate directly from Ghana. They strive to be “bean to box,” meaning they control the production process of their chocolate from the bean to the finished product. By purchasing from Cocoa Asante, shoppers can support a local business that strives to supply high-quality chocolate while fighting for sustainability and fair wages for Ghanaian farmers.
Livingston’s motivation to pursue Cocoa Asante extends beyond affecting global change. She also finds inspiration from her family and friends. When asked how she fights the challenges thrown at her, she explains that her support system is what keeps her afloat.
Livingston describes how being an entrepreneur in Chattanooga has impacted her life and business through mentorship and business-development programs like Launch, COLAB and Project Inspire, saying she would not have known what she was capable of without the support of these programs.
“It has definitely pushed me more than I would have ever expected. I have learned more about who I am. I have learned more about my family’s history… It has shaped me and who I am, and you see that in the company and even in the logo. The purpose behind it is so that my identity is embedded in the company,” says Livingston.
Livingston’s goal of bringing ethical, quality chocolate to Chattanooga shines through her brand. By pairing her Ghanaian-sourced chocolates with local whiskeys like Uncle Nearest and Chattanooga Whiskey, Livingston is creating change across the globe and across the street — with unmatched treats that are impossible to resist.
As Cocoa Asante continues to grow, Livingston hopes to inspire other entrepreneurs to follow in her footsteps. Along her path, Livingston has experienced hundreds of rejections, yet she encourages young entrepreneurs to remain steadfast.
“Your tribulations are not reflective of who you are,” she says.
This December, Cocoa Asante is offering flavors like Chattanooga Whiskey, Uncle Nearest Boozy Caramel, Espresso Dark Chocolate and so much more. Shoppers can order online or visit Cocoa Asante at the Holiday Market in the Chattanooga Convention Center.
Learn more about Cocoa Asante, here.