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Features. The Candy Men, 'Cocoa Pete' Slosberg enlists alums to stir up chocolate fun.

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The Candy Men

by Katherine Hansen '88

When Scott Barnum tells someone to have a sweet day, he means it.
As the “chief chocolatier” for Cocoa Pete’s Chocolate Adventures in Campbell, Calif., Barnum ’78 has made it his mission put premium chocolate into the mouths of the masses.

“Traditionally, most good chocolate is given away as a gift or consumed on special occasions,” Barnum said. “We’re making good chocolate for people to eat on a regular basis. We want to show that you can have high-quality chocolate, but you don’t have to be pretentious. You don’t have to go European to get good chocolate.”

Cocoa Pete’s is the brainchild of Pete Slosberg, the entrepreneur behind the Pete’s Brewing Company and creator of Pete’s Wicked Ale. Barnum has spent most of his career in food and beverage marketing, sales and general management, including tenure as president of Pete’s beer company. He also worked for eBay and had his own marketing and strategy consulting firm. When the offer to work again with Slosberg came up, he jumped at it. “I wanted to do rather than advise,” Barnum said.

Slosberg is the face behind the product, and Barnum is the man behind the scenes, overseeing daily operations. Barnum recruited Jason Wing ’02 to work on marketing in the Northwest.

Barnum, who lives in Atherton, Calif., with his wife, Debby, and 7-year-old son Walker, has remained active in PLU since graduation, planning events like
an alumni breakfast at his home when the Lutes played Menlo College. And when it came time to expand the Cocoa Pete’s staff, he called Don Bell, dean of the School of Business at the time, for some prospects. That led him to MBA grad Wing ’02, who now oversees the Tacoma operations and works to get the products on store shelves in the Northwest.

Wing spent eight years in the Army before returning to PLU for his master’s degree. He’s thrilled to have landed at Cocoa Pete’s.

“It is absolutely an adventure,” Wing said. “It’s fun to see something grow and snowball. It’s every MBA’s dream to get in on something from the start and see it become a success.”

Slosberg, often photographed wearing a bright Hawaiian shirt and a wide grin, says beer and chocolate are two of the five major food groups. An engineer by trade, he is also an international beer judge and a certified barbecue judge with a palate and nose for the finer tastes.

“He’s very passionate about good food and drink,” Barnum said.

After selling his successful beer line in 1998, Slosberg worked for the company he sold to and a nonprofit for a while. But a 2001 trip to Belgium, home to some of the world’s best chocolate, inspired him to get back into business.

“He saw great chocolate available on every street corner and in every store,” Barnum said. “He thought, ‘Why can’t America have chocolate this good on a widely available basis?’”

Slosberg studied the market and saw there was a niche for a fuller-flavored chocolate. After cooking up confections in his own kitchen and attending the Culinary Institute of America in New York, he dug up decades old recipes, tasted, tested, and eventually came up with four mouth-watering nuggets to offer customers. The raw products – and the secret recipes – are sent to Tacoma’s Brown and Haley, home of the legendary Almond Roca, which produces Cocoa Pete’s at its downtown factory.

Cocoa Pete’s candy has a higher percentage of cacao than other American chocolate, giving it a fuller flavor, Barnum said. Four varieties are available at 150 stores in the San Francisco Bay area. This summer, they will go on sale at specialty grocery stores and other shops in the Puget Sound area. Each flavor is aimed at a different kind of chocoholic.

“Some people like it gooey,” Barnum said. “Some people like it crunchy. As we say, different styles for different smiles.” Available are Maltimus Maximus, a crisp crunch of real brewers malt in luscious milk chocolate; Nuts So Serious, velvety milk chocolate surrounding roasted hazelnut paste and pistachio pieces; Berry, Berry Dangerous, rich, dark chocolate melded with chewy dried California strawberries; Hallowed Grounds, dark chocolate with a soft coffee-caramel center.

All four are selling well, but the Hallowed Grounds seems to be a favorite, Barnum said. And Slosberg is still cooking things up, so the company plans to launch an additional flavor soon.

Nuts So Serious could also apply to the demeanor around Cocoa Pete’s. The employees take their jobs – and their confections – seriously, but they aim to have fun doing it. The seven-employee firm doesn’t conform to a conventional hierarchy, have traditional titles or standard business cards.

“It’s a little zany,” Wing said. “The people are phenomenal, and the whole atmosphere is fun.”

Barnum acknowledges there may be more important things in life than creating a better candy bar, but he’s pleased to be involved in this tasty venture.

“Even in crazy times, good ideas can prevail, by taking chances and having fun in the process,” Barnum said. “If we can make other people happy and help them along the way, we’re doing our part.”

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Jason Wing '02

“It’s fun to see something grow and snowball. It’s every MBA’s dream to get in on something from the start and see it become a success.”

-Jason Wing ’02. (Photo by Jordan Hartman)

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Photo Credits

By: Jordan Hartman ’02


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