Acenette Gonzalez, or “Ace,” always knew she wanted to use her creativity to experiment withflavors. After graduating with an Associates in Culinary Arts from the Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio and studying Hospitality Management at their Hyde Park campus, she found herself testing her skills in a kitchen. However, after several years in the Dallas restaurant scene, she felt she was not where she wanted to be. She says, “I got tired of cooking, and I was like, ‘You know, I’m very artistic. I’m creative.’ And one of my friends was hiring part-time for seasonal work at a chocolate shop.”
At the chocolate shop, Ace started off doing simple things like polishing molds, cleaning, and packaging. As she learned the craft, she found an appreciation for the art of making chocolate. In 2018, she decided to take her experience into her own hands and launch Maravilla Cacao. Through her chocolate business, Ace was able to introduce Latino-inspired confections to the Dallas foodie scene, incorporating flavors like mezcal, café de olla, cajeta and piloncillo. Her gourmet chocolate bon bons are colorfully hand-painted and on display for purchase at local events and markets.
However, because of its reliance on in-person events, Ace’s business was one of the many food businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. She says, “COVID, of course, kind of dampened the situation. We didn’t really know how to maneuver around it. But… we figured out a way of pre-packaging and making it safer for our clients.”
Despite the challenges, Ace continued her journey as an entrepreneur and found opportunities for growth with LiftFund and its Women’s Business Center (WBC) in Dallas. She attended business workshops, became a vendor for another event and connected with a network of supporters. It was also her connection with the WBC that led her to the PepsiCo Junto’s Crecemos grant program. “I was fortunate enough to be chosen and I thought it was just a dream… the grant helped me with a lot. I bought a machine that tempers chocolate and then I bought the packaging… all that stuff [adds up to] a large sum of money.”
The new packaging funded by the PepsiCo grant will allow Ace to sell her products online and expand Maravilla Cacao in new ways, inspiring her to keep following her chocolatier dreams.
Ultimately, Ace’s goal is to open a chocolate shop in Dallas and be able to share her creativity and culture within and beyond the city. “You see a lot of a lot of nice communities and others thriving in San Diego, San Antonio, Chicago and I want Dallas to have that same kind of like energy towards the Latino community and just kind of appreciating our art and appreciating our culture,” says Ace. I think chocolate is a great way to introduce people to flavors that they would never try.”