Our History

Meet the Founders

 

We are Juan Echevarria and Maria Méndez. Our relationship as a couple began in the 1970s when we were high school students. Over time the relationship matured, we got married and finished our university careers, Maria as a teacher in the area of physics and biology and Juan in the area of Administration, Accounting and Marketing. After finishing our studies we started working, Maria as a teacher and Juan in the manufacturing industry. Our family grew and we had 3 daughters. The years went by and everything was a continuous development, growing as a family and in our professional life, always with the ups and downs that every family faces. The radical change comes to our lives in 2008 when Maria has to retire from teaching due to a health condition and Juan, who at that time had a private business, decides to close it because it was not performing as expected.

“We always loved chocolate, but cacao was not grown locally in Puerto Rico at the time. We discovered wild cacao pods on our parents’ farms and began making our first chocolate bar.”

John and Mary

Founders of Jeanmarie Chocolat

The Change

 

Facing the new reality and a change in our lives that was not planned, it just came. The first thing was to address Maria’s health situation, which was resolved positively. Then we had to face our economic situation as there was no longer a stable income in our home. It was then that we embarked on a new life project and became farmers. At the beginning we did not know what we were finally going to do, but little by little we explored possibilities and we based our search on two fundamental principles for our agricultural project, which had to be a crop of a product that was adapted to the climate of Puerto Rico and that this product had the potential to be exported. In this search, we identified cocoa as the product that met both requirements. But what cocoa should we produce? We then began to study the international cocoa market and found that there is a classification for a special cocoa known as Cacao Fino y de Aroma. Because Puerto Rico is a small island with limited arable land, we understood that there was an opportunity if we produced a special cocoa.

 

Hacienda Jeanmarie is born

 

Once we defined our main objective, which was to grow a special cocoa on our farm, the search began. In Puerto Rico, cocoa had been cultivated centuries ago and descendants of them remain in the forests and abandoned farms. We rescued some and started our cultivation with that material. The search continued and we met Dr. Brian Irish who was the director of the USDA ARS TARS Cocoa Clone Conservation Center. We met with Dr. Irish and presented him with the idea of producing a special cocoa on our farm. Dr. Irish was very interested in our project and I asked him to volunteer in his conservation farm to learn more about cocoa. Dr. agreed and we worked together for 5 years in which I had the opportunity to learn everything about the cultivation, propagation and maintenance that cocoa requires. With the help of Dr. Irish, high quality and high yielding varieties were selected and planted on our farm which we call Hacienda Jeanmarie.

Our “Proyecto País” initiative

 

When we saw the great potential of cocoa, we wanted to share our vision with the entire country. We were no longer thinking only of developing our farm, now we had the vision of creating a fine and aromatic cocoa growing industry in Puerto Rico and we named this vision “Proyecto País” (Country Project). Our project was already being covered in the newspapers and other media in Puerto Rico and there was a lot of public interest in learning more about us. So we began offering workshops on cocoa cultivation and the potential to come together and create an industry by developing farms throughout the island. The crop grew throughout the country and continues to do so to this day. The development of an industry that provides opportunities for Puerto Ricans is our legacy to Puerto Rico.

Jeanmarie Chocolat

 

When we started making chocolate from our cocoa in 2010 we had to create a brand name for our products. In this search, “Jeanmarie” comes to mind. It was simple that would be the union of our names in the French language. This is when “John and Mary” became our trade name “Jeanmarie”. Being a family business we love to have a clear and direct relationship with our customers, that’s why we share our history in a simple and open way with all of you.

“Thank you for supporting us and the Fine Cocoa and Aroma industry of Puerto Rico. Our goal is to produce in Puerto Rico one of the finest cocoa and chocolates in the world”.

John and Mary

Founders of Jeanmarie Chocolat