How one alum’s hard choices and strong relationships led to confectionary success
Scott Kucirek, MBA 99, co-founded OCHO Candy with Denis Ring in 2010 with a mission to make chocolate bars from responsibly sourced organic ingredients.
The pair self-financed at first to slow early development and allow them to strategically choose equity holders. Local Whole Foods stores were early customers, and within nine years, OCHO was a multimillion dollar business, producing bars for national drugstore and grocery chains in a cutting-edge facility in West Oakland that employed previously incarcerated individuals from the local community.
But OCHO’s fast growth followed by the pandemic nearly melted its sweet success—nearly! The story of OCHO is one of navigating growth and unprecedented challenges and speaks to the importance of building trustworthy relationships. Here, some key moments in OCHO’s evolution.
OCHO (which stands for organic chocolate) is born. Initial flavors include chocolate-covered coconut and peanut butter.
50 employees work 24/7 making the tempered-chocolate bars with thick shells and soft centers by hand, but OCHO still has to turn away clients.
Now with a custom-built manufacturing facility that’s revolutionary for its tempering and molding process, OCHO expands its eight varieties to national markets, like Walgreens and Target.
Sales are up 50%.
OCHO’s explosive growth threatens to drain the company of cash. Kucirek seeks emergency funding from his carefully selected investors and raises $2 million in 30 days. Meanwhile, he shifts strategy to finding a manufacturing partner.
Kucirek and Ring court four investors. When COVID hits, all but one, a confectioner from Trinidad and Tobago, back out. OCHO’s distributor deprioritizes moving chocolate. Inventory builds as sales diminish.
On the verge of bankruptcy, OCHO closes the deal with the investor from Trinidad and Tobago, who will handle manufacturing in the Caribbean. Kucirek provides job-search support for all employees and bonuses for those who stay to the end.
U.S. production ends, but a wave of COVID halts the factory setup in the Caribbean.
Production finally begins, just in time for holiday runs.
OCHO opens a new facility in Oakland for front-office staff and is on track to have a record-breaking year.