By Sai Marena
In a small private kitchen at home, prominent Gambian businessman Fady Hocheimy assembles multiple recipes ready to make home-made chocolate bars. On one side are cocoa beans which have been roasted, shelled and then broken into cocoa nibs. This final process of chocolate bar production follows a long process which takes at least ten days; taking the cocoa beans out of the pot, fermenting the beans for about five days in a heat and humid environment, drying them for another five days, and then roasting and peeling the beans to have cocoa nibs.
Fady’s end products are dark chocolate bars, milk chocolate bars and white chocolate bars. Today, the three chocolate varieties have become the first made-in-The-Gambia chocolate bars to have made it to local supermarket isles. They are being sold by over 60 supermarkets.
Fady’s story as a chocolate maker started around 2007, in a bizarre way. A Ghanaian staff who worked in one of his multiple businesses gave him a cocoa seedling as a gift from Ghana. He planted the seedling in his garden as an addition to many other plants giving beauty to the backyard garden. For the 10 to 11 years, the cocoa tree would bear regularly bear fruits and the fruits would ripe, drop off and go to waste. Fady didn’t pay any attention to them.
“It’s surrounded with this white sweet pulp”, Fady remembers. “All I could do was to suck on the pulp. There was nothing I could do with the bean itself.”
At the same time he was planning to cut down the tree to save his garden from the dirt of the falling cocoa fruits, he read a story about with statistics that 70% of the world’s chocolate came from West Africa. Intrigued, Fady started researching about cocoa and chocolate. With a growing interest, he decided on Valentine’s Day in 2018 to go into chocolate making experiment to surprise his wife with his first chocolate bar made from scratch.
“It was a crazy idea. I had no machine or tool. But I managed to make something that looked like chocolate, in a form of a heart.”
Fady’s wife didn’t like the taste of the chocolate at all. As he also admits, it tasted bad. They laughed over it for a few days. That didn’t put him off. In fact, that experiment increased his hope and determination.
“I was intrigues by the fact that I could make cocoa beans into something that looked like chocolate, even though it tasted terrible.”
Fady is renowned in the Gambian business circle for being perfectionist. He doesn’t give up. For the next many months, he religiously researched more on how to make chocolate. The more he researched, the more he invested in machines and tools used for chocolate production. By 2020, his chocolate bars under the brand FH Bites were ready for the market. This followed a long process of experiment and feedback from his family, friends and strangers.
“It took me two-and-a-half years for someone to finally say can I have one more. That was the turning point for me because I got to a level where people really enjoyed my chocolate to a point where they wanted more. That in business is key; when your customers want more of your product.”
While FH Bites chocolate bars become more popular in the country, Fady is planning to supply hotels.