In 2012, Jodie Jones and her husband flew to Malaysia to pick up their son Sterling at the conclusion of his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Jodie had just been diagnosed with stage three breast cancer, but she didn’t tell anyone until after they returned home and Sterling had given his homecoming talk. She didn’t want to “rain on his parade.” That is the way Jodie Jones lives her life, always thinking of others first and always focusing on the positive. She wants her life to be a sweet story—that is how Jojo’s Guilt Free Chocolate was born.
When the celebrations of Sterling’s return were complete, Jodie told her family about her cancer diagnosis and began cancer treatments: a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, and reconstruction.
The Beginning of the Chocolate
Jodie ate comfort food for months because it was the only thing she could keep down during her treatments. She says her eating habits were “terrible to say the least,” but in the midst of this, she heard about some of the health benefits of dark chocolate. She learned that you could add protein and other inclusions to the chocolate and began making her own chocolate. She hadn’t really been a dark chocolate person in the past, but now, she says she can’t even eat milk chocolate.
Word about Jodie’s chocolate began to spread. Her family loved it and friends would come over after work and ask for chocolate. Her goal was to get the sugar in the chocolate as low as possible while maintaining a good taste when the protein was added. She began experimenting with different inclusions before settling on the pistachios, cranberries, and almonds now found in the chocolate.
While Jodie was in the kitchen perfecting her chocolate, her newly-returned missionary son was facing his own “experimenting”—experimenting on the words of Christ as he watched his mother battle cancer.
A Test Outside The Kitchen
“It was kind of a test of, ‘Do I really, truly believe everything I just taught people for two years?’” Sterling asked himself. “It was my turn to put it to the test. I taught people for two years to trust in the Lord during these trials; I taught people who were going through hard things. . . and in those times I would testify that the Lord would get you through it.”
But, as is the case for many young missionaries, it was upon returning home that Sterling was faced with something that made everything he’d taught become even more real for him. He was no longer observing the gospel in action, he was experiencing it. As his family fasted each Sunday for his mother, he found a tremendous amount of strength, comfort, and peace.
Upon returning home to Arizona in June 2013 after a year at BYU, Sterling first tasted the chocolate his mom had been making for several months. He took one bite and said, “Mom, this is not just healthy. This is delicious! You need to sell it!”
Sterling had taken an intro to entrepreneurship class at BYU,and after tasting Jodie’s chocolate, he was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug.
New and Old Habits
Jodie kept cooking while Sterling began selling the chocolate at Crossfit competitions and outside yoga studios. He utilized the work ethic cultivated by his mission, even conducting reporting calls with a former mission companion, who was also starting a business, for two years after returning home. He also set goals just as he had in the mission field, because as his mission president taught, “There are two kinds of people in the world, those who set goals and those who work for people who set goals.”
“When I set goals for Jojo’s, I pray and really try to seek out what He wants me to accomplish with this, because I’m hoping to bless people’s lives,” he says.
Rejection never stopped Sterling because, just as when he was a missionary, he believed that what he was doing could benefit people’s lives.
Jodie says she noticed that her son also never talked to her about Jojo’s on Sunday. “The Sabbath was the Sabbath,” she says.
Terrence Clark, Sterling’s former mission president, says that Sterling’s dedication to the gospel and to creating a successful business comes as no surprise because Sterling “lived up to his name [as a missionary]—he was outstanding.”
“He was so successful as a missionary and as a leader because he really applied the doctrines and principles of the gospel to his life, not just theoretically but he actually purposely, consciously, and strategically taking each of the things he learned as a missionary and applying them to be a successful missionary,” Clark says. “And one of the things we taught [our missionaries] was—and he really exemplifies it—everything that you learn on your mission will be helpful to you throughout your life. Every habit that you form, every attitude that you develop, every life pattern, structure and your ability to organize yourself, everything that you learned on your mission will have direct application in real life.”
For Sterling, everything he taught, was taught, and that he learned as a young missionary seems to have sunk in.
“Sterling won’t toot his own horn, but I will just say I have been amazed as I’ve watched him build and guide this company, always going to his Heavenly Father for guidance,” his mother says. “Starting planning meetings with prayer, fasting for certain things to happen. . . I truly believe Heavenly Father is a part of everything in our life.”
Everything includes her battle with cancer.
“My prayer every day was help me go through the treatments, help me to not have such terrible side effects,” she says. “I don’t know how people go through it who don’t have a testimony of Heavenly Father and the Savior being there with you as your constant companion.”
But God and Jesus Christ haven’t been the only constant companions for Jodie.
They say you shouldn’t go into business with family, but Jodie and Sterling were immediately in business, and they feel they make a great team. Jodie explains that the mother-son duo has two different types of brains—Sterling is creative and ambitious while she is more linear-minded and organized. For Sterling, the opportunity to work with his mom is advantageous for multiple reasons.
“I’ve been a mama’s boy since day one so working with my mom has been pretty awesome. I haven’t told anybody, and no one’s figured out the reason I started a company with my mom was so that when I got married I could still call her at night and have an excuse,” he laughs, adding that he tells his wife, “I’m just talking business.”
It is for this reason that Jodie says her first piece of advice to anyone looking to start a business is to “make sure you get along with your partner and trust them. Make sure you’re both open to each other’s comments and ideas.”
Sterling’s advice is a bit different—“The world would say ‘follow your gut,’ which to me is 'Follow the Spirit,' but I just feel like if you feel and believe in something and it’s pulling you that way, it’s not as risky as people think that it is. If you’re smart about it, you really believe in it and you understand how much hard work it’s going to take, you’ll push through.”
Letting the Sweet Overpower the Sour
The Jones’s story is one of taking something sour and making something sweet out of it, Sterling explains. “My mom is an example of optimism through everything, especially in this ultimate test of finding out you have cancer.”
He speaks in past tense because Jodie wants her life to be a sweet story. She wants this story to be positive and uplifting, and that is the reason why—just as she did when she went to pick Sterling up from his mission in Malaysia—she tried to keep the fact that she has been diagnosed with cancer a second time a secret during the interview for this story.
They found out three months ago.
“Unfortunately, it has come back but I am fighting it,” she says, after a question led her to reveal her current diagnosis. “What it’s come back as is metastatic breast cancer, and it’s in my bones.”
“Obviously, the second time around is a lot scarier and a lot harder,” Sterling says. “However, even in the last three months, we’ve seen amazing miracles. We know it’s still a long journey and it’s still a long fight.”
This time around, they have the added prayers of Jojo’s customers. After Sterling sent out a special email to their customer list, he received hundreds of replies from people saying, “We’re praying.”
“The Lord has been involved in everything, every aspect of Jojo’s, of my mom’s life, of everything, and we feel like He’s still involved," he says. "We have absolutely seen miracles already and feel like she’s going to beat it.”