Thursday, June 20, 2024

Northlake chocolatier raising funds for Hawaii fire victims

A local chocolatier with a close connection with a Lahaina chocolate company has launched a fundraising effort to support employees of that company who lost their homes in the devastating Maui wildfire earlier this month.

On Aug. 8, one of many wind-driven brush fires destroyed most of the town of Lahaina on the west coast of the island of Maui. As of Monday, 115 people were confirmed dead and more than 800 people are missing, the Associated Press reported.

Kay Thibodeaux, head chocolatier and president of The Touring Chocolatier in Northlake, was devastated when she heard the news. She and her husband have visited Maui several times over the last seven years, and in 2021, they toured the cacao farm at Maui Chocolate.

“It ended with a tasting overlooking Lahaina, it was a really cool experience,” Thibodeaux said. “Their chocolate is¬†smoother than any other chocolate you’ve ever tried, it just melts in your mouth, like nothing you’ve ever had.”

The farm tour helped inspire her to launch her new business, The Touring Chocolatier, and she became Maui Chocolate’s only mainland wholesaler. In April 2022, Thibodeaux was the first person to sign up for an immersive program to work on the farm. She said she really enjoyed that experience, and went back again early this year to tour the farm and factory again.

“On my way to work last week, I was thinking about how I was running low on Maui Chocolate and I needed to place an order when my husband called and told me Lahaina was burning down,” Thibodeaux said. “I stopped in my tracks, crying.”

Thibodeaux said she tried to contact employees at Maui Chocolate, and it took about 18 hours before she heard back from an employee, who happened to be on the mainland, and she said she believed all the company’s employees were safe but feared the factory and farm suffered damage. Fortunately, though, the business was spared as the fire was stopped about a block away.

“The factory and its power microgram survived without any damage,” says a message posted on the Maui Chocolate website on Sunday. “All systems are working, and the chocolate is fine because the power and AC was never interrupted.”

While there was no fire damage, there was severe wind damage caused to the cacao trees on the farm, Thibodeaux said.

“It looks like a tornado went through. The trees are still standing, but there’s no leaves,” she said. “They’ve lost their fall and spring crops. It’ll be at least a year before they get any cacao from their own farm.”

Two employees lost their houses and two others lost their apartments in the building across the street from the factory, according to the message from owner Gunars Valkirs. Thibodeaux immediately started thinking of ways to help them.

“I’m trying to raise money and give 100% of it directly to those employees who lost their homes,” she said. “I know they need the money.”

Thibodeaux set a goal of at least $5,000 to raise for the employees. She put 13 truffle-making classes on the Touring Chocolatier’s calendar in August and September. For $35 per person, guests will get to taste a little Maui chocolate, and then make and take home six Belgian chocolate truffles, and Thibodeaux said she will donate 100% of the funds to the employees. Most of the classes are full, but there are some on Wednesday mornings in September that still have openings.

“I trust in God, and the community, that those will be filled,” she said.

Thibodeaux is also collecting donations outside of the fundraising classes, and she’s open to scheduling more if there is demand for it. A Sip & Support fundraising event has also been scheduled at Wine:30 in Roanoke from 6:30-9 p.m. on Sept. 21. She’s also working to find organizations that can facilitate donations to nonprofits in Maui. The Maui Chocolate company donates 100% of its net profits to local organizations, so its employees are not the only ones hurt by the setbacks caused by the fire and wind damage in Lahaina.

Click here for more information about the Touring Chocolatier, 8356 Thompson Road, and to sign up for a fundraising truffle class.

Mark Smith
Mark Smith
Mark Smith is the Digital Editor of The Cross Timbers Gazette.

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