Meet the Artisan: Steve Mazure of FreeSpir Chocolates
Behind every scrumptious product, there is an artisan with a story to tell. We are excited to introduce you to one of our incredible artisan partners, Steve Mazure of FreeSpir Chocolates in New Jersey. We think you’ll be as inspired by his story as we are.
Q: Can you tell us about your founding story?
I grew up in Northwest New Jersey and then moved down to North Carolina for 28 years after college. I left for personal reasons to return north and left everything behind with my daughter. I was out walking the dogs, trying to figure out what to do, and thought, “I wonder how chocolate is made.” I figured, if I were to go down a rabbit hole, I might as well have a purpose. I was going crazy after not working for two months. So I started learning how to do it. That was almost four years ago.
I didn’t realize how many steps went into making chocolate and how time-consuming it was. It was a slow learning process, and I had to adapt tools to suit a small-scale chocolate operation. I found it fun because everywhere I looked, there was something to learn about origins, sourcing, and the overall process. Slowly, we scaled up with more equipment. My daughter is 16 now, and we work on this business together.
Q: What’s your favorite part about running your own business?
I get to make the decisions and take the business where I want to. I have met some of the nicest people I've ever met at farmers markets. It’s a different culture than the corporate world; getting out of the rat race and having a curious nature means that I’m always learning something.
The bean-to-bar movement is growing quickly. When the work gets busy, I remember why I wanted to do this, that I chose this for a reason, and I can stop if I want to. There’s a feeling of self-empowerment when you run a small business, that you can control your own destiny. You’re working more hours, but it doesn’t always feel like work.
Q: What is important to you? How do you want FreeSpir to grow?
I get bored pretty easily. Chocolate is an avenue I want to continue to explore until I get the itch to try something new. This coming year, we are getting a base operation up and running in Hackettstown, where you can come see how chocolate is made and sample products.
I also want to set up roots in a farming community over the next few years. We currently work with Uncommon Cacao, a B Corporation with a high level certification for sustainability and fair trade. They are transparent with their sourcing and are doing it the right way, trying to be respectful and treat farmers fairly and with dignity. It goes a lot further than charity, because it supports the farmers’ businesses. Each origin has a story and supports many farmers. A few of our favorites are Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. We’re after small batches and flavors that differ from year to year because of crops. Bulk chocolate is just not as good; it’s genetically modified and processed to get rid of the bitterness. The nuances are what we’re looking for, we’re looking to explore the different flavors that come through. We get to celebrate the little nuances instead of taking them out.
Q: What makes Frespir special? How is your chocolate different?
The fact that we are small-batch in everything that goes into our chocolate. There is attention to detail and love all the way through it. I did the roasting, the tasting, and made sure everything is just right; there’s a little bit of me in there. All of those little technical things, the artistic part is in there. We’re using the best stuff and it will stand out to anyone. Our chocolate quality will hold its own against any other chocolate in the world. No one else locally does it the way we are doing it.
Q: What motivates you? Is there something you attribute your success to?
So many people have helped get me here. I have many mentors from the farmers markets who showed me the ropes on how this tight knit culture works. What keeps me going is constantly being able to take the business in a new direction. I need novelty, and this business is ever-changing.
Q: What is it like working with your daughter? What do you hope she learns?
She’s a very artistic person. The rooster on our logo is something she doodled on a napkin at the breakfast table. She raises chickens. I immediately knew I wanted it on our logo.
I want my daughter to know that when it seems like you have a lot of obstacles in your way, you can figure out a way to make something out of nothing. I want to show her that you can build a business without much money or knowledge if you put your heart into it. To have a strong work ethic and dream big.