Joann Hofer brings organic, homemade chocolate to Carmel
Carmel resident and self-described “citizen of the world” Joann Hofer is the owner, operator and chocolatier of the Carmel-based chocolate company XChocol’Art. Based out of a commercial-certified kitchen in her home, Hofer has grown her business during the last two years, becoming a thriving online chocolate seller as well as a big presence at local special events.
Hofer started XChocol’Art two years ago, after finding herself with a growing passion for chocolate and pushing herself into years of condensed education in chocolate making.
“I read an article two years ago about cocoa, and I became fascinated with the origin of cocoa, the process that it takes for one bean to make it into a chocolate piece that a person can actually eat,” Hofer said. “I enrolled in a bean to bar and professional chocolatier program and went to Vienna, Austria, to make good, quality chocolate the European way.”
From this fascination with cocoa and the artistic side of chocolate making, Hofer not only took part in an accelerated chocolatier program but also learned the ins and outs of starting her own business.
“The learning curve has been unbelievable in the last two years. In learning the processes to open a business, all of the little pieces seemed to fit together. Even things like realizing we needed a website if we were going to do this and someone saying it will be $15,000 to make one. I was like ‘Are you crazy?’ so I went and did it myself,” Hofer said. “At times, it was a lot to take on, but it has been fantastic. It has been a great learning process for me.”
Meet Joann Hofer
Hometown: Hofer was born in Boston, Mass., and has lived in South America, Miami, Fla., and Austria. She refers to herself as a “citizen of the world.”
Family: Husband, Roland, 14-year-old son and 8-year-old son
Hobbies: Cooking, soccer games, traveling, reading good books, yoga
Languages: English, Germany, Spanish and French
As part of her education, Hofer traveled to Austria, the country she lived in before her time in Carmel. It was living there that she feels awakened her love for quality food.
“It was great seeing how open the Austrian’s are with their culinary craft. They don’t hide. They don’t have secrets,” Hofer said.
During this time in Austria, Hofer’s husband, an Austrian himself, and their two sons joined her, and the family traveled to Zotter Schokoladen Manufaktur in Kornberg, one of the country’s most unique and innovative chocolate companies.
Josef Zotter, the company’s founder, is considered a visionary throughout much of Europe. With a focus on sustainability and fair trade products, Zotter not only makes high-quality, traditional chocolates but also looks to be innovative with his flavors. Last year, he even helped to create a pig’s blood-infused chocolate.
After touring Zotter’s facility, Hofer’s husband suggested the couple meet with Zotter. Hofer initially blew off the idea, thinking Zotter would be far too busy to meet with a family of tourists, but after her husband reached out to the factory directly, telling of their family’s history in Austria and Hofer’s desire to make great chocolate, Zotter agreed to meet them for coffee.
As the group discussed family, chocolate and business, questions about Zotter’s distribution, or lack thereof, in the United States was discussed. By the end of the day, Hofer and her husband had become Zotter’s U.S. distributor. It was a massive moment for XChocol’Art.
“(Now), we are marrying the two companies. We are only making our chocolates from Zotter chocolate which means all of our products are organic and fair trade as well, something that is not common with small chocolate makers in the United States,” Hofer said.
With this solid foundation, Hofer has been growing the local and creative aspects of the business during the past several months. XChocol’Art recently became a member of Indiana Artisan. The organization was launched in 2008 to raise awareness of locally-crafted products and to establish a brand for Indiana-made goods. Hofer applied to the group and submitted samples of her work that were judged by a panel of fellow artisans before being invited to join the group.
“It’s a wonderful group to be a part of. I’m from different parts of the world. I moved to Carmel 13 years ago, and I consider myself a Hoosier,” Hofer said. “Being a part of this group gives me that sense of belonging to this state and what is the best of this state, innovators and artists who want to express themselves through their craft.”
Indiana Artisan will have its third annual Marketplace at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on April 6 and 7. For more information about the group, visit www.indianaartisan.org.
In the coming months, XChocal’Art will be participating in Orchard in Bloom, a springtime event at Indianapolis’s Holiday Park from May 3 to 5. Hofer will also be manning a booth at this year’s Carmel Farmer’s Market Saturdays from May 18 to October 5.
For more information on XChocol’Art and Hofer, visit www.xchocolart.com.