NewsChocolatier Philip Ashley Rix Breaks The Mold In His Industry

Chocolatier Philip Ashley Rix Breaks The Mold In His Industry

According to Philip Ashley Rix, award-winning founder of Philip Ashley Chocolates, his craftsmanship is equivalent to the lovechild of luxury brand Chanel and massive superhero franchise Marvel. It is a collaboration one would rarely conjure up, yet makes perfect sense for the chocolatier, who creates epic chocolate desserts at a rightfully premium price-point. For Mr. Rix, it is the insistence of his mother who made his name his destiny, the daringness to clash flavors to create treats you ring home about, and a commitment to stick through the challenges to become a master of chocolate. He does it all in his hometown of Memphis, a city he returned to, that ultimately proved quite viable, as the distribution hub and cost of conducting business makes the southern hotspot favorable and culturally rich for the entrepreneur. 

He speaks to BLACK ENTERPRISE on the blend not only of cacao and sugar, but of creativity and business exceptionalism. If his products do not speak the highest of his craftsmanship, then it’s not Philip Ashley. As his voice and brand becomes known for far more than confectionary greatness, the Black Willy Wonka, as the literary candy maker’s influence is highlighted, is making strides in his industry from the direct sources. Through sustainability and a fierce passion for its artisanal side, Rix is a growing legend in the world of chocolate. His upcoming feature at Napa County’s Blue Note Jazz Festival, where his chocolates are direct inspirations of some of its headliners such as Mary J Blige and Nas, will expand his reach and continue on his quest to wow every palette that experience his world-renowned treats. Although the work can speak for itself, the premiere chocolatier indulges with BE on how the magic gets made. 
 

How has your business ethos, especially as a Black brand, played a role in your sustainability efforts? Given that you uplift communities and have to remain focused on what you represent. 
I want to be mindful and considerate of where our products come from. My dad is a history teacher, and has taught me about the impacts of colonialism, slavery, and the taking particularly from Africa and its natural resources. As I began this path as a chef,  but more importantly a chocolatier, I learned the history of cocoa and cacao and how it has been cultivated. It takes an understanding and a spirit of altruism to do this right. Part of it is being able to go directly to the sources for the ingredients, raw materials, packaging, wherever. How far down to the original source can we make sure receives fair market value? It is that global procurement perspective. Who are the people of color making wine or who are the aviaries producing honey? Whatever it is that we’re doing, we try to  work with either people who look like me or have a sense of doing good. 

 
How does it feel to be someone so successful in this business of utilizing a crop that, we already know, our people have cultivated under, oftentimes, bondage? 

 

What legacy do you want to leave as the luxury chocolatier and artisanship of Philip Ashley?
One where the work speaks for itself. We lead with the product, if the product is not exceptional, the other stuff starts to break down after that. Our plan is to continue to scale. The goal is to be one of the most prominent chocolate makers period. Like Kobe or Michael Jordan, I want to be the best. Now in this situation, I have a specialty, within chocolate even. I always say I’m like the cardio-thoracic surgeon of chocolate. Just the drive to really do something exceptional. Always ideating, imagining and curating new chocolates, and also the experience that is attached to it. Because something that has always been important to me, and black folks have passed down throughout history, whether it’s Yoruba or other cultures and religions, is storytelling. It has always been part of how we kept that history alive. And each storyteller adds their own piece to it as it goes down.  So the inside lid of every chocolate box reflects that, “every chocolate should tell a story.” The storytelling is the legacy. 
 
Galaxy
 
What were the hardest challenges when you were first starting out?
I started doing pop-ups 12 or 13 years ago, before it was popular. I wanted to see if people would like my products, and if they would continue to buy them. The toughest thing in the beginning, and I think is pretty much the case for most businesses, is educating the market. So why do you want to pay this premium price for a barbecue or blue cheese chocolate? Expensive chocolates and flavors never even heard of or imagined ever tasting, from someone they never expected to be making them, a self-taught person from a city not known for chocolatiering. This is why this is the story. And plus the chocolates are dope. [Laughs.] I spent two years just reading about chocolate before I ever even made it because I wanted to have a thorough understanding of the product. And I always fascinated by Willy Wonka and the story with the roast beef flavored gum, that key piece is kind of the driving force to my own creative process. Now I can make a box of chocolate that tastes like Hip Hop.
 
Where do culture, cuisine, and chocolate connect for you? 
Chocolate really is that connective tissue between culture and cuisine. Chocolate, in the sheer nature of its existence, is very driven and infused with culture. I look at chocolate as this palette or canvas that is very receptive to plugging in other attributes. For example, the Soul Food collection, you are tying in the tradition of cooking a sunday dinner. How do I turn that experience in my childhood into a meal that’s in a box? It’s distilling down a concept or idea that moves people in the food. 

When you reach certain pinnacles, such as being one of Oprah’s favorite things and the exclusive chocolatier for Cadillac, what’s next for you?
 

 
You are gearing up to be a part of the Blue Note Jazz Festival, can you speak to that collaboration? 

 
Your mother Arnette Rix, was really impactful to your work. How has she shaped you and Philip Ashley Chocolates most? How are you honoring her legacy?
The primary thing is her naming of me Philip Ashley. Growing up, I literally hated that name. Ashley is technically my middle name, but my mother has always called me both. I used to think she was doing it to embarrass me, but maybe she was just getting me used to it.  I would say that’s a girl’s name, now she’s like you’re welcome. She just recently passed away a few months ago. When I started the business, she was just retiring. So she had been working for me for the past decade, helping me with everything I needed. But I think the biggest contribution was the name, because she came up with it. I created a chocolate in her honor, and we introduced it for mother’s day, but it will be a part of our signature collection. It’s a buttermilk and cornbread chocolate, and it’s actually one of the first things I remember her feeding me as a child. It was a multigenerational meal, and now honored in our chocolate named Nothing but Nett.
 
For aspiring entrepreneurs, what can you say about the Philip Ashley philosophy on being a chocolatier?
I looked at the business three-dimensionally. As I was teaching myself about the craft I was also learning the industry, and how to market within it. Using tools today, like social media and AI such as ChatGPT. Up and comers have a much greater and advanced opportunity to spin their marketing. It can be a lot more effective and impactful early on. And at the end of the day, I always say to, one, perfect your craft and have an outstanding product, and then just get selling.  A lot of times, people feel like they have to raise, in this age of capital raises, a lot of people put the cart before the house. I was literally making chocolate on a machine that tempered one or two pounds at a time, and I made hundreds of chocolates from that temper machine until I could afford the next size which did 15 pounds, and so on. And we’re still continuing to grow. 
 
What would’ve saved you time, energy, and money if you had known it early on? 
It’s this understanding that it’s a process, and while the end goal is in mind, you can’t leapfrog all the stuff that is between. Find a mentor, read, use these amazing tools at our disposal nowadays, and it can kind of shorten the headache. But it’s going to come. More importantly, it is reminding yourself that this is what you are built for, and you’re going to end up being your best  cheerleader and motivator. There are definitely going to be times in every stage of things. But, we’re doing far better today than we were doing when I first started. There are times where we do revenue in a day where years ago I was praying to do in a week. It is an evolution, there is no easy way to learn and refine. The challenges come, but you got to be willing to take it. I wouldn’t be where I am today if not, going to Blue Note Festival to do some really cool chocolates and wow their palettes, now the work is fun. 
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Source: Black Enterprise

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