Welcome to Trep Talk! Trep Talk features some of our city’s compelling entrepreneurs who are boldly building what is uniquely Memphis. The spotlight series is curated by Elizabeth Lemmonds, Director of Talent Programs for the EPIcenter.
Welcome to our first Trep Talk Q&A, with one of my favorite people, entrepreneurs and businesses: Phillip Rix of Phillip Ashley Chocolates. A couple of years ago – the business officially launched in 2012 – I heard whispers of “chasing Willy Wonka,” and then read an article in Forbes about a sales and marketing executive with the likes of FedEx and Apple who traded the corporate life for that of an entrepreneur. More specifically, the entrepreneurial life of a self-taught artisan chocolatier in Memphis.
And whaaaat? A storefront in Cooper-Young? My first taste was prior to a mother-daughter date night at The Orpheum. That proved apropos as these chocolates were not only decadent and exotic, but also bite sized works of art. My first was the Karmal Sutra, with hints of coconut, cardamom, curry, caramel and sea salt. Many of his distinct profiles incorporate local culture and food, like the Memphis (BBQ) and The Grizzness (bacon, caramel and shortbread).
Could the story get much better? Yes. Yes, it could. In the past year alone, Phillip Ashley has partnered with Le Bonheur, has been the official chocolatier of The Grammy Awards and joined an official Academy Awards Hollywood watch party!
It’s a privilege to call Phillip a friend, and to have him kick off Trep Talk! Oh, and for the record: my current favorite is the Fuego, with ancho and chipotle peppers. Go ahead: #youdeserveit
So, Phillip: give us your elevator pitch! Phillip Ashley Chocolates hand crafts the finest designer chocolates on the market. Our goal is the push the boundaries of conventional taste and present a new, more artistic perspective; not only visually, but especially in taste. We tell stories that taste like chocolate.
What was your inspiration? My inspiration to become a chocolatier was a collective of experiences and people who’ve had influence on my life. I suppose that’s why I continue to create chocolate after chocolate. I was blessed with a myriad of opportunities to learn, so now I’m sharing that in my craft and business.
Did you always know you were destined for entrepreneurship? I truly believe I was destined. Being in sales, you have to have an entrepreneurial mindset to be successful.
What’s been your proudest moment? Just jumping out there is what I’m most proud of. It is not easy leaving conventional structure behind. The greatest reward is also my greatest responsibility: calling the shots. I anticipate good things to come even when I don’t always know what they will be. I never take any of it for granted and enjoy celebrating the little things just as I do the big.
What’s your top advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? You can’t build a house within a house. In other words, if being an entrepreneur is truly what you are and want to be, you have to be willing to go all in and do it.
What entrepreneurial resources helped you most? I actually developed my business model over several years while learning and evolving into a chocolatier. A local consulting firm assisted with my original business plan. I since created my Entrepreneurship Master Class to help entrepreneurs of all type to understand how to start, further develop and grow their businesses.
How do you maintain the elusive work/life balance? The early years of launching a business requires a lot of your time, especially when it’s a product. Creating balance has to be proactive and intentional. I’m a mid-day moviegoer.
What should be on every entrepreneur’s bookshelf? I have so many but here’s a few I think are essential:
- The Art of War – Sun Tzu
- Smarter Faster Better – Charles Duhigg
- Purple Cow – Seth Godin
- 11 Rules for Creating Value in the #SocialEra – Nilofer Merchant
- How the Poor Can Save Capitalism – John Hope Bryant
- Giving for Growth – Jeremy C. Park
Who’s on your playlist right now? Too many to name! I listen to everything including Prince, Outkast, Otis Redding, Gary Clark, Jr., King, Kendrick Lamar, Nirvana, Miles Davis and Andrea Bocelli.
Got any guilty pleasures you’re willing to share? Cigars, blackjack and poker on occasion.
What are some of your own favorite local businesses?
- Scoops Parlor (chicken bacon ranch crepe, BBQ pulled pork crepe)
- Felicia Suzanne’s (crawfish dumplings, short rib grilled cheese)
- Sakura (Alfredo and mango rolls)
- Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana (Tortugas – rock lobster and chorizo)
- Alchemy (hangar steak, grilled cheese, side cars and the alchemist)
- Havana Mix Cigar Emporium
- Cheryl Pesce Jewelry
- Gifts from Nature Soap
- Doc’s Wine, Spirits & More
QUESTIONS from the fans on Facebook:
Are you hiring taste testers? (Rachel Wilhite) No, but we host a series of tasting events where we often introduce our newest flavors. Come by and visit the store and we just may let you try something while you’re shopping!
At what age did you fall in love with chocolate and what brand was it? I would love to know! (Melanie Spillman) My love affair with chocolate began with my mom’s chocolate chip cookies which I only got as a special treat as a kid. That’s probably my number one food addiction to this day. My mom bought us all kinds, not realizing she was exposing to my first lessons in chocolate growing up. I can appreciate each for their special characteristics.
How do you come up with your unique flavor profiles? (Molly Polatty) I have a vivid imagination. I’m in a constant state of daydreaming. I can get inspiration from anywhere at anytime because I’m always receptive. I get to dream for a living and people enjoy when I show up for work! I’ve had some that I’ve had to adjust but I make a chocolate in my mind dozens of times before I ever make it in reality. This helps me prevent a lot of botched chocolates and wastage.