Who can travel to remote corners of the world, run an award-winning, internationally recognized business, and still make plenty of time for his wife and kids?
The candy man can.
He’s a far cry from Gene Wilder’s eccentric character in the 1971 classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but chocolate-maker and Latter-day Saint Art Pollard definitely makes the world taste good. A self-described “foodie,” Pollard found his initial inspiration in a chocolate shop he visited on his honeymoon. Upon tasting the store’s product, he says, “I realized there was a whole level of chocolate that I had never been exposed to.”
This realization, fueled by some old-fashioned entrepreneurial know-how, blazed a trail that would lead Pollard to create Amano Artisan Chocolate—one of the most successful confection companies in the world, winning 150 first-place awards in national and international competitions.
But to Pollard, the accolades don’t mean much compared to the relationships he’s developed as a chocolatier. “[What] I’m most proud of is getting to take the finished chocolate back to the farmers who grew the cocoa,” says Pollard, who often travels to third-world countries to harvest his ingredients. “The pride I feel when the farmers taste chocolate made with their own beans is transformative. I see it change the lives of these humble farmers as they realize that, despite their meager surroundings, their work is being appreciated by the finest connoisseurs.”
From Coding Computers to Creating Chocolate
After serving a mission in South Carolina and graduating from Brigham Young University, Pollard and his business partner, Clark Goble, found success in the world of technology. But even while Pollard and Goble were writing the type of computer code that has made Google billions of dollars, Pollard’s dream of being a confectioner was evident.
With only scientific training (Pollard studied physics at BYU) and an aptitude for building machines, Pollard started chocolate-making to get his mind offthe stresses of his software company. He learned chocolate from the inside out, starting his journey by procuring secondhand machines and refurbishing them to make chocolate. “During that process, I learned not just how things are done, but why they’re done,” Pollard says.
He experimented with his own chocolate, sharing it with family and neighbors. “I’d usually have lots of chocolate left over from my experiments, so I’d give it away,” he recalls. “So many people said it was the best they’d ever had that Clark and I decided to create a side company making chocolate.”
It was then that Pollard began building relationships with the best cocoa farmers he could find, flying around the world in search of the finest products the planet could offer.
Success was immediate. It wasn’t long before NPR ran an article hailing Amano as some of the best Valentine’s Day chocolate in America. Soon after, the company won five golds at the San Francisco International Chocolate Salon.
Strengthening Family Ties
All the responsibility that comes with being a chocolate celebrity has made Pollard grateful for the foundation on which he has built his life—the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“In any family, each person has their own unique goals and wants,” explains Pollard. “It can be difficult. But the gospel of Jesus Christ acts as a center, binding us all together. When I look at my wife or my two sons, I can’t help but be overcome by the feeling that they are truly the greatest blessings in my life.”
Pollard has found ways to make his career in confection a family event. “The whole family pitches in when we make our chocolate,” he says. “I have found it to be real quality time that we can spend together. We will often share stories of what’s going on in our lives as we sort the cocoa beans.”
Chocolate has helped to bring Pollard’s family closer together, so when harvesting season comes and he has to bid them farewell for a time, everyone manages. “My incredible wife, Mihoko, does a great job holding down the fort while I’m out of the country,” he says. “Even though I’m often in some small village where communication with home is virtually impossible, she remains generous with her love and support. It’s what I depend on day-to-day.”
The word “amano” has many meanings in many languages. “In Italian, it means ‘by hand,’ which represents our dedication to creating the finest chocolate available,” Pollard reveals. This diligence also fulfills the other Italian translation of “amano”— “they love.” And on the Amano website it states, “In Japanese, amano means ‘heavenly field.’ Since chocolate and cacao are known as the ‘food of the Gods,’ it is truly a bountiful field that must be treated with reverence and respect.”
For Pollard, that reverence and respect comes in part from his relationship with the Church and his understanding of eternal truths. “The Church has always placed an immense amount of emphasis on perfection,” he says, referring to the scriptural notion that all may be made perfect through the Savior’s sacrifice. “It is my belief in perfection that drives my work with chocolate. I firmly believe we can each find our own version of perfection in our lives. It doesn’t have to be something that means a lot to the world, but it can mean the world to the people who we come into contact with.”
Though the art of chocolate-making may seem inconsequential on an eternal scale, Pollard sees a beauty in the small gospel parallels his work provides. “Fundamentally, the gospel and making chocolate are about transformation,” he says. “When they come off the tree, cocoa beans are bitter and tannic and unpleasant to eat. But when grown and harvested by the farmer and then fermented and dried, they transform into something very beautiful. With additional love and care, they transform again into incrediblechocolate, the beauty and flavor of which can be mind-blowing. If the love and care is lost at any step along the way, the resulting cocoa beans or finished chocolate does not have nearly the magic that it would have otherwise.”
He continues, “So, too, with our own lives and those of our families. If we [exercise] love and care and show Christlike devotion to our loved ones, the results can be truly miraculous. Amazing transformations can occur.
Sharing His Faith
Traveling around the world and interacting with different cultures has given Pollard a unique perspective on the reality and strength of the worldwide Church. “I meet members of the Church in many different countries. Each country has its own culture and history, yet members of the Church have one thing in common—no matter where they are from, no matter their economic circumstance, they all share a love for Jesus Christ.”
Pollard’s excursions have also given him wonderful opportunities to touch others with the light of the gospel. Because Amano is based in Utah, Pollard’s colleagues commonly and correctly infer that he is a member of the Church. “I’ve never preached my religion,” he says. “I’ve decided the best way to reach out to people is by example. It’s been amazing how many people have noticed and asked about the Church.”
Changing the World
Most of us are familiar with the taste of a freshly picked apple or a perfectly cooked steak. And we’ve all bonded with family and friends over the joy of a delicious meal. Food, in essence, brings people together and marks special events in our lives—and, in Pollard’s opinion, that goes for chocolate, too. “I just hope that we can keep doing something that is truly special, and that this will be something that I can pass down to my children, and they to theirs,” he says.
Not all of us have Pollard’s affection for confection, but he is convinced that everybody can find similar fulfillment in their chosen vocations. “While I have found my talent and perhaps my calling through chocolate, we can all find our calling in our own way,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if someone is a corporate executive, a janitor, a homemaker, a banker, or a nurse. What does matter is our attitude when we do what we do.”
Pollard adds, “People talk about changing the world, but it is important to realize that the world is made up of a huge variety of people with different skills and talents. The world as we know it is only as good as we all strive to be. To make the world a better place, we just need to play our part the best we can.”
For more great stories like this, check out the November/December 2015 issue of LDS Living.