With no industry knowledge but a lot of inspiration, Chris and Lynn Jahnke left their retail handbag business in Melbourne behind to grow cocoa and make chocolate in Far North Queensland. They created Charley's Chocolate Factory, an award-winning cocoa farm and chocolate factory near Mission Beach.
Hi, my name is Lynn Jahnke, trading as Charley's Chocolate Factory, based in Mission Beach, Far North Queensland.
I describe my business as growing cocoa in Far North Queensland, award winning cocoa, judged last year in Paris to be one of the top 18 cocoas in the world. We then take that cocoa and we make it into award winning, awesome, single origin chocolate.
The best way of getting into cocoa or chocolate is to ask lots of people that know what they're doing lots of questions. The people I seek advice from and inspiration from would actually, strangely enough, be our customers. Your customers really let you know what they want and they will tell you what they need and desire.
Whether we've won awards because of where the cocoa is grown, to be honest, I'm not really sure. I think that we're fortunate here that we can grow cocoa in this narrow band on this coastal strip in Far North Queensland, but so many things come into play when you're getting awards for your cocoa.
When Chris and Lynn watched a television program explaining that cocoa could be grown along a coastal strip in Far North Queensland, it sparked their interest and inspired them to leave their handbag business in Melbourne and head north. Despite knowing nothing about growing cocoa and making chocolate, they liked the challenge and appeal of creating a business based on cocoa, chocolate and tourism. In 2012, they imported cocoa seeds from Papua New Guinea and grew the trees on a trellis – a world-first for cocoa, proven to mitigate against cyclone damage. Two years later, cocoa pods appeared and were harvested to produce the first 50 bars of Charley's Chocolate. This made Charley's Chocolate Factory the only on-site cocoa tree-to-chocolate bar producer in Australia.
In 2016, Charley's Chocolate Factory tours commenced and in 2016 and 2017, they received the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence. The 70% cocoa chocolate of Charley's branded chocolate won gold, silver and bronze medals at the Australian Fine Food Awards in 2016 and 2017. In October 2017, the Salon du Chocolat in Paris judged their cocoa – in what is regarded as the world's cocoa Olympics – as one of the 18 finest in the world.
Charley's Chocolate Factory has opened a new modular production facility at their property, which has allowed them to more than triple their production. Chris and Lynn are using crowdfunding to procure more equipment and further increase their production. They have big plans to create the Australian Chocolate Centre, a 20 hectare cocoa plantation and chocolate factory, producing 680 tonnes of cocoa pods and 850,000 bars of chocolate a year.