Local business owners are such a big part of the community so we thought we do a series of quick fire Q&A’s with some of them while they are at work. We popped into have a quick chat with Fernando who owns Tonantzin – Aztec Artisan Chocolate. Hope you enjoy reading a little about Fernando.
How long have you lived in the Yarra Valley for Fernando?
I have lived in the Yarra Valley for five and a half years now. We mainly moved up to the Yarra Valley because we were keen for our children to attend the Little Yarra Steiner School.
What do you love most about living in the Yarra Valley Fernando?
I like the hills and forests. There are so many beautiful places in the Yarra Valley and I love the community too.
Fernando how long have you owned your business for?
I started my business Tonantzin – Aztec Artisan Chocolate 6 years ago.
Can you tell me about how your business came about Fernando?
I am from Mexico so cacao has been in my blood my whole life. We drink cacao and we also use it in many different dishes in Mexico including savory dishes like curries.
Its also very common in Mexico to see chocolates as well but my understanding of cacao is a little different than here in Australia. We always have a drink in Mexico that is made with corn and cacao which is called Atole. Corn, cacao, beans and chilli are part of our culture and we eat those foods everyday.
In Mexico, I had the opportunity to attend a healing ceremony with a group of indigenous people called the Wirrarika. That night the Wirrarika people sat around a fire where they prayed and listen to the fire all night. They gave offerings of cacao, tabaco and corn to the fire to give thanks. The Wirrarika people believe that cacao is the most sacred offering of the three. Attending that ceremony really sparked my interest in cacao.
I always knew about cacao because we consumed it everyday, but after attending the ceremony with the Wirrarika people that night, it really deepened my connection with cacao. I started to see it in a different light, one that was much more deeper and spiritual. It really resonated with me and I started to get more involved with the Wirrarika people and their ceremonies.
Then when I moved to the America, I noticed that they were using cacao as a super food. So that’s when it all connected for me. I wanted to make my own chocolate that was not only good for people but was also good for the spirit.
I then moved to Australia and I didn’t have any work so it felt like the perfect time to start my own chocolate business. I thought I would try and sell my chocolate at markets at first. The first market I attended was at the Immigration Museum. They have a festival of chocolate and I prepared all the chocolates by hand using a Metate which is a special grinder. It takes a long time to grind beans by hand which limits you to how much chocolate you can produce.
It ended up being an awesome market. I didn’t expect it to be that good. After that I started to prepare more chocolate and little by little my business grew. I ended up having to get an electric grinder, as it was just taking so much time and effort to grind cacao beans by hand.
I felt I needed some help and guidance with my business so I signed up to a 1 year business course at RMIT, which taught me how to do a business plan. Then I did another course which led to me getting some financial assistance to buy a 15kg commercial grinder. The larger grinder allowed me to make much bigger batches of my handmade chocolates.
After the course finished I built a commercial kitchen under our house in Yarra junction where we were living. The house we were living in was a cicular house and it used to be used to supply water to Yarra Junction.
In May this year I decided to move my business to Yarra Valley Ecoss. I really like the space here. I have an area outside where people can sit and enjoy a coffee or a cacao. I am open every Friday from 9am – 5.30pm and on Saturdays from 9am -2pm. On Fridays I am also part of the The Valley Market Ecoss, where I sell my Mexican taco’s as well as selling my handmade chocolates and drinks. You can also buy my chocolates online at Tonantzin Chocolate shop.
Can you tell me about the cacao ceremony’s you offer at Yarra Valley Ecoss?
I offer sacred cacao ceremonies and also Temazcal which is a traditional Mexican sweat lodge at Yarra Valley Ecoss. I run cacao ceremonies and Temazcals every 2 to 4 weeks. The cost of the sacred cacao ceremony is $60 which covers the cost of the cacao. With the traditional Mexican sweat lodge I ask that people contribute what they feel it is worth or what they can afford. It is a full day if you choose to come to both. If you are interested in experiencing a cacao ceremony or a traditional Mexican sweat lodge give me a call on 0411 166 912. Everyone is welcome.
Where do you source your cacao beans from Fernando?
I get them all from Mexico and Peru.
What do you love most about running your own business?
The thing I love the most about running my own business is that I really enjoy what I am doing.
What is the hardest thing about running your own business?
The hardest thing for me is that I don’t know much about business so I have to just learn things as I go. I have lots of creative ideas about the business but I don’t quite have the business skills so that is more challenging for me.
What is the best piece of business advice you would give to someone who is thinking about starting a business?
Keep on going and follow your dreams.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I like to do handcrafts. I like to make feather fans which I make from beads and feathers. Each one can take between 100 – 150 hours to create. They are used in cacao ceremonies.
Do you have a favourite food?
My favourite food would have to be a Mexican dish called Mole. It is a savory dish. It is like a curry made with chilli and cacao.
What is your favourite drink?
A nice cup of Cacoa.
What is the best piece of advice that you would would give to someone?
I have a phrase that I repeat every day to myself in Mexican and it is ‘sin miedo al ezito‘ which translates to ‘don’t have fear to succeed‘.
Thank you Fernando for giving us 5 minutes of your time and sharing a little bit about you and you business Tonantzin – Aztec Artisan Chocolate. It was lovely chatting to you.