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A Business Built on Chocolate, Wine and Determination

Vol. 25 Issue 5

Post Categories: Company to Watch, Success Stories

With Chocolate Cork, Keri Lauderdale Olson brings together two of her passions.

Here’s how much Keri Lauderdale Olson believes in her new business: She quit her corporate job and sold her house to help fund the startup.

Keri is the founder of Chocolate Cork. Her company hosts interactive pairing classes—workshops where customers learn which chocolates and wines go best together. The classes are held in pubs, restaurants and private venues.

Via her website, she also sells premium chocolates and kits that allow people to host their own events at home.

Chocolate Cork officially began in the spring of 2015, though Keri had been leading gourmet chocolate tastings for a decade and wine tastings for the past few years. Combining those two loves just made sense.

“Everybody who knows me knows that I’ve talked about this forever,” she said.

What moved her to start last spring was the death of one of her best friends. “She told me that life was too short to put it off,” Keri said. “It just put things in perspective.”

So Keri took massive action—including selling her house. Luckily, she’d recently become an empty-nester. (Her three sons have been big supporters of Chocolate Cork. They’ve all helped with her classes, and her youngest designed her logo and first website.)

Another decision that has allowed Chocolate Cork to start strong? Keri applied for BetaBlox, a local incubator.

The program helped her switch from a big-business mindset to a nimbler approach. She started thinking harder about her business model. She regularly tweaked her classes according to what did and didn’t work.

Keri is no stranger to entrepreneurship or hard work.

Growing up, she learned how to make chocolate houses, stained-glass chocolate eggs and other candy from her mother, Becky, who owned her own chocolate business. Then Keri would sell the treats she made at school. At age 16, Keri started working in the restaurant industry, and at one point owned her own restaurant and catering business.

“I grew up with the confidence that I could do whatever I set my mind to do,” she said.

After she had three boys in three years, Keri enrolled in Rockhurst University as a nontraditional student and earned her degree. When she entered the corporate world, she excelled. Her resume includes nine years at Hallmark and several patents.

Even so, the process of starting Chocolate Cork has been a revelation.

“I have been tremendously humbled at the support I’ve gotten from friends and family, even people I didn’t expect it from,” she said.