Rescue Chocolate is a candy company with a heart of gold. 100 percent of the net profits from sales are donated directly to animal rescue organizations around the globe. With flavors like Foster-iffic Peppermint, Mission Feral Fig, and Peanut Butter Pit Bull, you can’t help but delight in these tasty treats. As a bonus, the quality of the candy doesn’t suffer for the message. If anything, it’s more delicious.
We sat down with Sarah Gross, the founder and force of nature behind the operation, to get to the bottom of what makes her company so special, what lies ahead, and what exactly a “Peanut Butter Pit Bull” is.
Dogster: Tell us about Mocha, the pit bull who appears on the front of many of your candy bars.
Sarah: In 2009, I first saw Mocha’s photo on a dog fosterer’s website. She had such beautiful but desperate brown eyes that I basically fell in love without ever having met her in person. Despite the fact that I was living in a place where the landlord was not keen on pets, I immediately hopped into the subway and went to meet her on the Upper East Side. It was an instant connection. We shared a cab home. A few months later, I moved to a new apartment, right across the street from a big park with off-leash hours.
I can only speculate about her history. She must have been in the clutches of dog-fighters. Her ears were cropped off to make her a “tough-looking” fighting machine. But when they realized she was a lover through and through (not a fighter!), they abandoned her to the streets. She was quite emaciated at first. Now she has a much fuller frame, and she is still brimming with love and affection.
I’ve always had a soft spot for dogs. In middle school and high school, I used to volunteer at my local animal shelter. In the back of my mind, I knew I wanted to do something to reduce the appallingly high numbers of homeless pets that are killed by the millions every year in this country. So it was on a walk with Mocha one day that I got the idea to start a company where all the profits would be donated to animal rescue groups.
How do you choose the rescue groups that benefit from the sale of Rescue Chocolate each month?
My selection process has evolved. During the first month of operations (January 2010), there was a devastating earthquake in Haiti. I knew that in disasters like that, very often the needs of the animals are overlooked. So I chose a collection of groups that were on the ground called Animal Rescue Coalition for Haiti (ARCH). Then, in order to get my brand name out there, I started selecting well-known groups with big mailing lists so that I could reach larger pools of potential customers. Now, it is very gratifying that the rescue groups come to me and ask about partnering. My monthly slots are taken through the rest of this year.
Do you plan to expand the range of flavors?
Yes, but it is a slow process. I work with the executive chef at the Tumbador Chocolate factory in Brooklyn. The chocolate has to taste really good, and not just exist for a really good cause. For the newest flavor, Fakin’ Bacon, we went back and forth with different recipes. Now I love the taste, but I’m not thrilled that the soy bacon product has some artificial ingredients, so we’re working on finding a substitute.
All your chocolate is vegan and kosher, which is awesome. Were you specifically aiming for a certain market?
The fact that it’s kosher is a bonus, but the vegan piece is an absolute must. I have been a vegan for 12 years, and it’s all about the animals.
Now I know there are health benefits to a vegan diet as well. However, kindness to animals is my main reason for living a vegan lifestyle. It would make no sense to offer a food product to raise money for animals if a whole different set of animals were killed and incorporated into the food! We all share the planet together.
You’ve hit on the perfect thing — helping animals while making delicious treats. How did you come up with the idea?
In addition to having that soft spot for animals, I also have had a passion for dark chocolate for many years. One of the great things about living in New York is that there are thousands of stores offering exotic, delicious chocolate bars from all over the world. I used to go exploring for new bars to try.
I saved the wrappers in a scrapbook in which I awarded my own personal ratings on such things as color, texture, and the other euphoria-inducing qualities of the chocolate. For a little while I worked in a raw chocolate factory in Queens, and I actually developed a best-selling flavor there. When I struck out on my own, I was able to combine my two passions: animals plus chocolate.
What about the cats? Who’s the kitty on the front of Mission Feral Fig?
Cats have never been an intimate part of my life, but the need to find homes for them is almost as great as it is for dogs. Rescue Chocolate doesn’t discriminate! We’ll help the people helping dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, other farm animals, and even rats. (Yes, there is a rat rescue group on my beneficiary list.)
The cat on the label of Mission Feral Fig is named Athena, and she was rescued. She is the winner of a photo contest I held when I was searching for a feline cover girl.
You plan the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival, among other things. Do you have a full-time job, too? How do you find the time to help so many animals?
I teach a little Pilates on the side, but Rescue Chocolate is my full-time job. During the months leading up to the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival, like right now, there is so much to do that I feel like I have a second full-time job!
I’m not actually in the trenches any more, helping animals hands-on. I like to think that I’m helping so many, but really it is all indirectly. A zillion kudos to the people at the rescue groups who are the ones who are socializing the injured animals, cleaning out kennels, fostering dogs and cats, bringing animal abuse criminals to justice, spaying and neutering, luring feral cats in out of the cold, giving up hours of weekend time to stage adoption events. It takes a village.
What’s your favorite Rescue Chocolate flavor?
Peanut Butter Pit Bull. And I’m not alone. It’s my best-seller by far. People complain to me that they are addicted.
Any plans for a dog-friendly chocolate-like bar? Carob, maybe?
No, Rescue Chocolate is for human consumption only. However, I do offer leashes for sale on my website, because they are produced by a company which shares my values.
Finally, where can we all get a taste of this delicious chocolate that helps so many animals?