Meet The Maker

Seattle Chocolate & jcoco

Meet Jean Thompson, CEO of Seattle Chocolate and Founder of jcoco

May 5, 2023  |   by Trev True

Tell us about yourself

I am originally from Connecticut and graduated with a BS in Psychology from Bates College in Maine. I got my first job in technology immediately after graduating and moved to Seattle in 1987 to work at Microsoft in Marketing Communications. I retired from technology to stay at home and raise my two kids: Danny (32) and Ellie (26). Ellie is the current brand manager at Seattle Chocolate.

How did you get into chocolate?

Initially, I was one of a handful of investors in Seattle Chocolate in the early 1990s. When the Nisqually earthquake leveled the building we were renting in 2001, I stepped in and paid to rent and retrofit a building and move the equipment to this new location. At that point, I became the owner. A year later, when my youngest child went to kindergarten, I stepped in to help the struggling company and, within 6 weeks of joining, took the reins when the current CEO quit. That was almost 21 years ago! It’s been quite a journey.

jcoco chocolates

jcoco chocolates

When and why did you start jcoco?

jcoco was founded in 2012 to complement the offerings of Seattle Chocolate brand. It is a solid bar (vs truffle meltaway centers), has a built-in mission to stomp out hunger in the USA by donating 10% of net profits to American food banks, and is made from fine, Peruvian chocolate and whole ingredients. We like to say it is our culinary line.

jcoco chocolate factory

Where is the chocolate factory and do I need a golden ticket to take a tour?

Our 60,000 square-foot chocolate factory and headquarter store is in Tukwila, not far from Southcenter Mall and 4 miles from the SeaTac airport. We offer one-hour tours ($12 for adults, $10 for kids over 6) Monday through Saturday, 10am to 2pm. We like to think of it as a golden ticket but anyone and everyone is welcome!

How do you source your ingredients?

Our products are made from non-GMO, kosher, and sustainable, clean ingredients. jcoco’s flavor strategy is to use only whole fruits, nuts, or other inclusions (things added to chocolate) that we find as close to home as possible. Our chocolate is sourced from a small, award-winning chocolate maker in Lima, Peru, known to be the birthplace of cacao (cocoa) where heirloom and genetically pure trees abound. No irrigation or pesticides are needed because it is the perfect climate for a cacao tree to grow – in the Amazon rainforest.

cocoa on tree

jcoco chocolate

What makes Seattle Chocolate and jcoco different?

Seattle Chocolate bars and truffles have a signature meltaway center, accomplished using a small amount of coconut oil. The flavors are fun and approachable. Both lines are non-GMO, kosher, and ethically sourced. Seattle Chocolate brand donates 10% of net profits to Girls Inc. to help marginalized girls find their voice and opportunity. jcoco donates 10% of net profits to American food banks because we believe chocolate is food. Each bright jcoco envelope comes with three 1-ounce individual bars to make it easy to share or save some for later.

What has been your biggest challenge along the way?

Figuring out how to make money as a manufacturer of chocolate in the PNW has been difficult. Chocolate is inherently challenging because so many processes are involved in transforming the bitter / astringent / acidic bean into the delicious delicacy we all love. The trees are grown around the equator and on tiny family-owned farms. The necessary 8 processes are labor intensive and expensive, but people don’t want to spend very much money on chocolate; they see it as a child’s candy. It is our mission with jcoco to elevate chocolate as the craft food that it is, to provide a sustainable future for the product.

What keeps you going?

I love my company, its products, and its people. Our bigger purpose of elevating chocolate as a food still seems a long way off, but I won’t quit until chocolate gets the respect it deserves, or I die trying.

What are your favorite chocolate pairings?

The Veracruz orange bar (white chocolate!) with a smoked Scotch whisky is exquisite and surprising, such a great treat for after dinner.

The black fig and pistachio bar (72% dark) is amazing with a big bold red wine, especially if it has fruity, plummy notes.

The 85% cacao single varietal (yes, one type of tree!) is amazing on its own, slowly melting in your mouth, with your eyes closed so you can catch every nuance.

chocolate pairings

What’s the most satisfying thing about your job?

Seeing my products on the shelves or having friends and acquaintances send me pictures of them from all over the country is a joyful experience for me, every time.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?

Don’t compromise your beliefs or values to grow quickly or make money. If you stay strong and give it enough time, you will find success.

jcoco chocolate

What’s on the horizon for jcoco and Seattle Chocolate?

We just launched the milk and dark flights for jcoco where you get three different 1-ounce bars inside the envelope to try with different foods and beverages. We also have a new flavor coming out for the holidays in a bright red envelope with a copper foiled cocoa pod.

Seattle Chocolate has a brand-new line of holiday bars, bags, gift boxes designed by a Dutch artist, Bodil Jane that is out of this world – “Destination Holiday”. We’re extremely excited about the holiday this year!

What are your passions outside of work?

I love to spend time outside, hiking, skiing, biking, sitting, doesn’t matter as long as I’m breathing fresh air. And I love to travel to places I’ve never been before. I always come back with a better understanding of my world when I see the rest of it.

How do you keep work/life balance?

When my mind is tired or anxious, I stop working and do something different. By following this, I stay balanced and happy.

My Met Market