PHOTOS BY KATIE NOBLE
They said it couldn’t be done. They said nobody could do it.
But Julie MacQueen, 41, and Carrie Raho, 39, business partners and best friends, were determined to create a healthy yet tasty chocolate bar without sugar, and they did it.
Pure7 Chocolate is handmade in Carlisle, Massachusetts. All the bars’ ingredients are organic, raw, often local, and gluten/dairy/soy/GMO-free. MacQueen says, “It’s good for your body—there’s nothing bad-for-you in it.” What makes the chocolate sweet is local raw honey.
Naysayers said you couldn’t make a chocolate bar with honey—it would be too rubbery, too fruity, too difficult to temper. MacQueen and Raho proved them wrong. The bar is a hit. It’s been tasted and tested by experts who deem it ready to go nation-wide. And the partners are counting on it. They want to go big. They believe passionately in their product and in its implied message that eating healthy can be indulgent, too. “We live this and we want to share something good with the world,” they proclaim.
Raho and MacQueen are self-proclaimed, stay-at-home moms who have always loved to cook. Between them they have seven kids, ages 10 and under—thus the name, “Pure7.” (Additionally, their original bar, Pure7 Dark, contained seven ingredients). Their kids were the inspiration to start the company. The challenge was to make a chocolate bar that was nourishing, sugar free, and one that kids would love.
In the beginning, the stovetop in MacQueen’s Carlisle kitchen was production-central. Over the course of a year, the partners experimented with chocolate, learning the technique of tempering, and perfecting a method to temper chocolate with honey. It was stressful. “We were so busy with our kids but in between we would jump into the kitchen.” At one point they were discouraged and almost gave up. But the two bolstered each other’s spirits. Raho said she “always believed in Julie. I believed in what she was doing and together I knew we could get it done.”
They continued tweaking their recipe. They “read a ton about how to make chocolate.” They watched endless numbers of YouTube videos on the subject; they joined chocolate forums and talked to other chocolatiers. They made batch after batch of chocolate. “Julie is a perfectionist,” Raho chides. “We threw away probably 1,200 bars experimenting with the technique.” But finally they got it right—a dark, rich adult bar that the kids loved, too.
With a modest amount of combined savings and a lot of moral support from friends and family, Raho and MacQueen launched Pure7 Chocolate last September 2013. They are very proud of how far they’ve come with so little. They have been conscientious about keeping down costs and say they have been running their business on a shoestring—a carefully managed shoestring. They converted an old barn in Carlisle into a commercial kitchen. A friend at Bees Knees in Boston donated a used tempering machine. “People have gone above and beyond to help us. We’re still new to all this,” says MacQueen, “But we’re getting it.”
The partners take special care with ingredients. They know the Ecuadorean farmer they buy cacao from; the local honeymaker who provides them with honey; the coffee roaster, Gracenote, who supplies their beans. All of these premium ingredients are mixed by hand and hand-poured into custom designed chocolate molds to create the thin bars and round discs called “Bites.”
Pure7 Chocolate is 85% dark and unlike most chocolate with that high a percentage of cacao, it is not bitter. The honey soothes the chocolate’s bitterness and gives it a smooth, creamy mouth feel. Customers have described the texture as similar to milk chocolate.
The two partners run all aspects of the business: the marketing, the in-store demos, the PR, and the social media. They designed the packaging and employ six part-timers to help with that—to hand wrap and hand tie each bar. The bulk of their business is wholesale to grocery, gourmet, and specialty shops. You can also order their chocolates online.
They may branch out soon and produce popcorn or granola—who knows. But one thing is for sure, whatever is next for Pure7, it will be pure, it will be tasty, and it will “feed your body.”