Sol Cacao’s chocolate is vegan and organic. Photo: Sol Cacao

Daniel Maloney and his brothers Nicolas and Dominic grew up on their father’s farm in Trinidad, running around sugarcane fields and seeking refuge from the glaring sun under mango and coconut trees. It was a good life, but in 1996, the family moved to Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. The brothers search for something to connect them back to their agricultural roots led to the creation of Sol Cacao — the Bronx’s first bean-to-bar chocolate factory. 

The Maloney brothers: Dominic Maloney (L), Daniel Maloney (M) and Nicolas Maloney (R). Photo: Sol Cacao

“Food was a large part of our upbringing. We were fascinated with how the world worked, where animals are from, and nature. That curiosity brought us to one of our long-lasting passions — agriculture. We loved asking, how was the food produced? Where is it grown? How is it harvested?” Daniel says. “Ultimately, it would come back full circle [with Sol Cacao], a bridge between Trinidad and our current home, New York City.”

Bed-Stuy, while inhabited by many Caribbean immigrants, was drastically different from their home in Trinidad. The sun wasn’t as warm and the hot chocolate wasn’t sweet compared to Trinidadian cocoa tea. As the Maloney brothers grew up, they looked for ways to connect back to their culture — and possibly start their own farm. They gave it a go in 2005, when they moved to Connecticut to a property where they had enough land to grow produce, giving them a glimpse into farm life. However, this proved to be a difficult, costly and unsustainable venture. Then, in 2009, when the brothers were in college, they learned that their great-grandparents were cacao farmers.

Sol Cacao uses rare and authentic beans from small estates across the world. Photo: Sol Cacao

“One of the things my great-grandmother told my father before he came to America was, ‘Don’t let them forget about Trinidad because it’s a beautiful country with a lot to offer.’ The idea of not forgetting where you are from and not forgetting your culture was very impressionable,” Daniel says. “I come from an agricultural family. My grandmother had a beautiful garden in Brooklyn, my dad owned a farm and for us, [we wanted] to work with cocoa as the crop to celebrate in our generation.”

The brothers decided to follow in their great-grandparents’ footsteps. But planting and harvesting cacao in the United States is no easy feat. Instead, the Maloney brothers decided to honor their roots by learning how to make chocolate. 

After graduating college, they moved back to New York City where they began to do research, watching hundreds of chocolate-making videos. They discovered the process was truly an art form, much like making wine. Depending on where the cacao bean is from, chocolate can taste nutty, like walnuts and almonds, or fruity, like raisins or plums. It took the Maloney brothers years of research and experimentation to make their first chocolate bar in December 2015, which they debuted at the Sugar Hill Market in Harlem the following year.

“That’s how we got started,” Daniel says. “We’ve reinvested almost every penny and we’ve made sure to continue to grow and share our love of chocolate. Most importantly, [we make sure] to share chocolate made from specific cacao beans so that people can taste some of the wonderful chocolate that exists in the world.”

Sol Cacao moved its headquarters from a food incubator in Brooklyn to its own factory in the Bronx in 2018. Since then, the company has focused on producing a pure, rare and ethically made product. Through research, the brothers found that the average age of a cacao farmer is 68, and they are typically paid less than a dollar a day.

“We saw a problem with potentially rare and high-quality cacao going extinct because no one would be able to take care of the farms, especially if they’re being paid less than $1 a day,” Daniel says. “That set the foundation for our business.”

Daniel Maloney prepping cacao beans to make chocolate. Photo: Sol Cacao

Sol Cacao gets its beans from small estates in Madagascar, Ecuador, Peru and Colombia, estates that not only sell a quality and flavorful product, but also pay their workers a fair wage.

“Madagascar tastes like raspberries, cherries and plums and has a nice red wine-like finish. Colombia has notes of caramel and vanilla. Peru tastes like honey, apricots and dried fruits, and then with Ecuador, you’ll get notes of spice and earthy tones and a brownie-like finish. Ecuador tastes most like a traditional chocolate bar,” Daniel says. “What we are trying to do is to preserve these authentic cacao beans.”

While Sol Cacao has had a successful run since its start in 2016, during the pandemic, all signs pointed to it shutting down for good. 

“During that period, bills continued to come our way. We started off humbly by shifting from business-to-business to direct-to-customer online. That allowed us to connect more deeply to our customer base,” Daniel says. “We had to remind ourselves why we started this.”

Sol Cacao’s headquarters in Port Morris, Bronx. Photo: Sol Cacao

The brothers made it a goal to sell three orders each day — as long as they sold three a day, they would survive. Slowly but surely, they made it out of the hardest part of the pandemic. 

“The three orders a day would keep us motivated to keep going. Many small businesses failed during the pandemic. So we are very fortunate that despite how severe the pandemic was across the country, we held our dreams close and kept pushing forward,” Daniel says.

The brothers’ shared passion for agriculture and their strong connections to their roots also gave them the perseverance to keep going. For them, it’s not just about making chocolate; Sol Cacao put them on the path of self-discovery, self-acceptance and self-understanding. 

“We discover a little more about our family connection around the cacao plant. That’s what drives us to focus on the quality of the chocolate, to do that story justice,” Daniel says. “I’m sure my great-grandmother would be proud if she would have known that it’s because she worked with this crop that it also inspired us to do what we do today.”

The Maloney brothers are hopeful for the years to come. In December, they will be hiring their first two official employees — from the Bronx of course. Slowly, they hope to make the borough one of the chocolate-making capitals of the world.”

“We come from a country that’s known for being one of the best chocolate growing places in the world. That’s what motivates us, the idea that we are continuing on a fourth-generation story,” Daniel says. 

Sol Cacao is for people who want to experience what pure chocolate with minimal ingredients tastes like. All products are vegan and organic. You can purchase Sol Cacao’s chocolate here. 

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