Miles, tell me how this incredible chocolate came to be. Just how did the idea come to you to make such a fantastic and unique, chocolate product.
I’ve had a varied career from serving in the Marine Corps in Vietnam in all of 1969 to cooking down on hunting ranches, over open fires in South Texas for family members of the King Ranch, to working in restaurants and eventually as a personal chef. This is what I was doing in the late 1990s when I began recreating and improving upon a chocolate dessert I had made and liked at a former restaurant in which I worked. I remembered the recipe and the technique on how to make it but wanted to make it with better ingredients. I didn’t like the personal chef gig so much and so when I’d shared a taste of my chocolate with the client I was cooking for at the time he gave me the best idea, he said, “I know what you can call it…Miles of Chocolate!”
Once I felt good about the chocolate formulation I began talking about it to people I met and one of those persons was the restaurant manager over at Maudie’s. She told me she was looking for a dessert to serve at the restaurant and asked if I’d be willing to sell it to them. Initially I said no but after thinking it thru some more and figuring out how it would be possible for me to do so I called her back and asked if she was still interested. We struck a deal and they began purchasing Miles of Chocolate from me wholesale.
A couple of critical newspaper mentions came shortly after that in 2002. Kitty Crider, food writer at the Austin American-Statesmen, did a mention on Miles of Chocolate as well as Virginia Wood at the Austin Chronicle. In fact, when someone initially brought Virginia a piece of our chocolate exclaiming “there’s a new chocolate in town” she tasted it and rolled her head back in shear delight! Virginia helped promote many small, local food makers and brands over the years and it really helped spread the word about our product as she was a big fan.
Did you already know which retailers you thought would be a good match for your dessert?
That October, 2002, I brought a slice of Miles of Chocolate over to the Director of Cheese & Deli at Central Market and a month later he followed up with me and said, “We’re in!” At first, they only wanted two bricks. You see, we make our chocolate in large slabs and then it gets cut back in the bakery at the retailers and put into a container with our label. So, when Central Market’s first order was only 2 bricks we were quite surprised. It didn’t take long for word to get out and very quickly the containers of chocolate began flying off the shelves. I didn’t know how the grocery industry worked. I just had to make it up as I went along. I began doing sampling in the stores and pretty much 100% of the time someone would taste our product and immediately purchase it there on the spot. It just didn’t sit on the shelves for long.
By Spring of 2003 Central Market was buying lots of bricks at a time. In fact, that Easter we were doing another tasting and ended up selling 17 bricks (69 slices) in 4 hours! Central Market has been a good partner all along. A year later, Whole Foods approached us and eventually HEB. It was Whole Foods who suggested we start making a gluten-free version. We created a gluten-free version that tastes exactly the same as the original and Maudies Tex Mex and The Grove Wine Bar both still have it on their dessert menus.
Ben Welch had stepped in to help me in the kitchen and we quickly became business partners. In 2006 we rented a space in East Austin and built out our kitchen. We put in all the infrastructure….a grease trap, vent hoods, walk-in freezers, etc. We kept this 2500 sf space spotless. We’d been given a bank loan to make the tenant improvements and had signed a 10-year lease. When we paid off the bank loan I wrote a personal thank you to the banker for loaning me the money and contributing to our success. He said in all the years he loaned money out to people and businesses he’d never received a thank you card before. He really appreciated it and so did I. In 2016, after our 10-year lease was up, the rent was increased too high for us to continue on in that space so we vacated it. It’s being rented now by a long-time successful catering company and we’ve moved on to a local co-packer who we have trained extensively to make our product just as we did. In fact, we maintain some oversight on making sure the quality is exactly as we’ve always ensured, and our customers today sure do apprecaite it. We are in distribution thru Labatt and they’ve also been a good partner.
Who opened some of the doors for you that had a significant impact on your success?
In the end, you’ve gotta know how to sell. Ben was my business partner for 14 years. Our attitude together was, “let’s get the job done”. There was no arguing over “who did this or who did that”, we just made great business partners. We did what it took to get our product where it needed to be when it needed to be there. It was nothing to load up 450 lbs of chocolate in coolers and drive them to Fort Worth, Dallas and Southlake Central Markets and return the same day. We’d deliver straight into the bakery and load up the freezers ourselves and their staff took it from there.
Janet Chaykin, of Whole Foods, was the Director over the bakery department nationwide and she was such a supporter and became a good friend. In these times you really needed advocates for your brand on the inside of the grocery stores. This was very helpful and these were key relationships for us to maintain. We are grateful for their support then and still today.
The Marine Corp teaches you that you can do more than you think you can. I would go to bed at 1:00 am and awake at 4:00 am to drive our product to DFW. We’d hit Houston in the morning and then drive to San Antonio for a show in the afternoon and back home to Austin that evening. We didn’t question what we were doing and the effort we put into not only making some of the finest chocolate desserts available in the retail market today but to spread the word and grow our sales month to month. We simply did what it took. When some would suggest we add preservatives to our ingredients to obtain a longer shelf life we refused. We knew we were doing it the right way. The best way. Fortunately, we have now found the right co-packing partner to also make our chocolate the best and right way. This gives us the confidence to continue to grow into new markets.
Miles of Chocolate can be found at Central Market statewide and Whole Foods in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas. Side note: Mile Compton is quite the jazz music lover. He plays a few instruments and the entire time we were together doing this interview Miles had some of his favorite tunes playing in the background.