Tania Molina is the founder and CEO of Villakuyaya Organic Dark Chocolate. Originally an architect by profession, Tania shifted her career in 2014 with the entrepreneurial dream to create her own chocolate brand. Drawing on her Ecuadorian roots, Tania created Villakuyaya with quality ingredients and sustainable practices as her guiding goals.
Family and culture are at the heart of Villakuyaya chocolate
Known for having some of the best quality cacao in the world, Ecuador is at the heart of Tania’s business. Her family and heritage play a huge role in Villakuyaya.
“My home and heart is always Ecuador, and Quito where I was born and resided. Now, I have found my family and my new home is Rockland County, New York, where I manage my business in-between changing diapers and teaching my son potty-training. In every chocolate bar and story I get to tell to my customers though, the chocolate and the heart of the business is and always will be Ecuadorian,” says Tania.
Tania’s passion for chocolate-making and experimenting with flavors came from her grandmother, Juana, who had a natural gift with seeds, plants, and herbs. Tania remembers fond memories and experiences with her grandmother and cacao: memories of eating the cacao seed pulp, toasting in the crock, and the cacao powder with the hot milk. These memories remind Tania of her grandmother’s kindness, her love for her grandchildren, and her respect for nature–virtues that Tania has embedded into her business.
And Villakuyaya is very much a family business at heart.
“My ‘employees’ are my husband, mother and father. We’ve traveled to do chocolate shows in Washington D.C., Seattle, London, Amsterdam, Paris and other places. It’s not money or profit that’s the success, but it’s more about longevity, expanding the brand further, and sharing my chocolate with more people who will love it,” says Tania. “And now, with my son, I would love to maintain the business and be able to tell him many years from now that mommy was able to survive and succeed in the business, and would love for him to be a part of it with us.”
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Defining success and offering a helping hand
For Tania, success is about far more than just profit. Every sale makes a difference, and every repeat customer is a blessing and a joy.
When she first began her journey into the chocolate industry, everything was new and Tania had to learn the ins and outs of the industry “on the fly.” There were many bumps along the way as she learned all about chocolate from cacao farmers in Ecuador, managing sustainability and quality, as well as the manufacturing aspects such as packaging, order requirements, importation and exportation taxes, and USDA requirements on packaging. Deciding to focus on the US marketplace also posed a challenge at the time for Tania, who had only visited the country a handful of times.
“Over time, after I reevaluated all my real goals for the company, I was able to visualize everything in a way where I could raise my company into the black, all the while learning about the industry, market and trends in the chocolate business. Of course, and then Covid-19 happened, which gave the entire industry a massive challenge just to stay afloat.”
However, despite the struggles early on, Tania continued with her dream. Now, after many years in the industry, Tania has learned many valuable lessons and knows what to expect. Her greatest strength is her vibrant personality and the quality and variety of her chocolate, she says.
“I love to meet people at chocolate shows or events and talk about chocolate making, the business or what made me make a chocolate bar flavor the way that I did. It’s a tough business, very competitive and also filled with nice people with big dreams.”
Tania remembers her first chocolate show in the United States and how the kindness of a stranger saved her that day.
“My mother, father, and I spent the whole week preparing everything for that day. We made a checklist of everything we would need, and when the day arrived we forgot the tablecloths! I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh, but I always seemed to have an angel next to me, and this time a very kind Latin lady helped me with tablecloths and other things that I forgot. Amazing kindness from a stranger, but as you learn everyone is in the same boat at these shows and understands each other.”
Offering a helping hand to others is sometimes the best thing you can do for someone else. Each entrepreneur knows how challenging and lonely the journey can be at times. For those starting out, seeking others and gathering the necessary tools and knowledge is the first step toward success.
“Over the last 5 years or so, I think women have come together to help support and protect each other more than ever before, and to help give each of us an opportunity to succeed,” says Tania. “I would advise new entrepreneurs to make a business plan, take their time, do research and learn all the angles and then jump in over prepared for a slow start. It’s not just the company or the career itself, but also the tools around the company that make it successful.”
In 2021, there are many ways to gain information and resources for new business owners and entrepreneurs, from YouTube videos, conferences and workshops, mentorship, and guidance from other businesses.
“Take that advice and help, and good luck to all of us wonderful women and to our dreams.”