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9.1.12

How it Works: The Teamwork Approach at Chilmark Chocolates

There are many places where you can buy chocolates. But when you mention Chilmark Chocolates, people tend to get weak in the knees.

Here are a few responses I pulled from the review website Yelp: “I do not even like chocolate and I love Chilmark Chocolates.” “These are the best chocolates I’ve had in the entire United States.” “This place possesses such Island star power. It’s David Ortiz hitting a grand slam, walk-off home run. It’s Meryl Streep. It’s Mick Jagger. This place just has that magic.”

So what’s the secret? According to co-owner Mary Beth Grady, it’s two things: One, they use only the freshest ingredients. When in season, the berries come from Island purveyors like Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown, and North Tabor Farm and Murphy Blueberry Farm, both in Chilmark. They use Peter’s Chocolate, a company in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country (company legend says its founder, Daniel Peter, invented the first milk chocolate in the late 1800s).

And two, it’s the people who work there. They’re the real special ingredient.

Back in the early eighties, Mary Beth and Allison Burger, the other co-owner of Chilmark Chocolates, were working as counselors at Camp Jabberwocky, a camp in Vineyard Haven for young people with disabilities. Mary Beth was a registered dietician and Allison was an occupational therapist.

In 1985 they began working at the newly opened Chilmark Chocolates. Their idea was to help build a business where people with disabilities could not only work, but blossom. And since all of the chocolates were not only sold, but made right on premises, this was a business that could offer a wide variety of interesting jobs.

“When you work at Camp Jabberwocky,” Mary Beth explains, “you get the idea that the world is full of possibilities. Work is such an important part of our lives – we wanted to give people with disabilities a chance to come and work. And we knew it could be successful if people had the opportunity to work together as a team, so that’s been our focus: teamwork.”

The philosophy worked. In 1994 Mary Beth and Allison were able to buy Chilmark Chocolates, and the teamwork concept has been a big factor in their ongoing success. One of the team members is Martha Keenan of Vineyard Haven. In fact, she’s been working at Chilmark Chocolates almost from the beginning – nearly twenty years. Martha is quick with a smile and very enthusiastic about her job. And earlier in the day she had led the morning team meeting.

Mary Beth explains that before opening for business each day they have a meeting to make announcements and talk about things that might come up during the day. And the daily team leader gets to choose a subject for discussion. Martha had chosen her favorite topic: desserts. (For the record, Martha is a big cheesecake fan.) The meetings are a great way for everyone to get to know each other and bond as a group.

Another team member is Alexander Campbell of Vineyard Haven. Alexander graduated from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School in 2004 and has been working at Chilmark Chocolates for several years. Along with being a chocolate maker, Alexander is also a talented artist and produces a line of greeting cards that are sold at Chilmark Chocolates and at the Beach House in Vineyard Haven. Alexander received a brain injury in a car crash when he was a small child, so he donates a percentage of the proceeds from the sale of the cards to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.