Lauren Blanco merged her many eclectic interests into a blossoming career manufacturing chocolate. She maintains a focus on supporting cacao farmers through fair and environmentally sustainable practices.
Her bean-to-bar enterprise, Markham & Fitz, sells chocolate nationwide and opened its first dessert bar and cafe in Bentonville’s 8th Street Market. This year, the company’s Ooh La Lavender Chocolate Bar received a Good Food Award, and Blanco was named a Tory Burch Fellow, a national program designed for women entrepreneurs.
Blanco was raised in Shreveport, La. “I lived in a bubble. I didn’t have a particular career plan.”
Upon arrival at the University of Arkansas, she dutifully enrolled in calculus. But early in her studies, a class in Swahili caught her eye. Ultimately she graduated with a double major in French and cultural anthropology, emphasizing East Africa.
Blanco took a position with ForgottenSong, a NWA nonprofit improving life for women and children in war-torn countries. She traveled to Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, experiencing a pivotal moment at age 23. She was alone in Burundi, discussing in French the use of poultry for community development. “It was a little scary, but I realized then that I could do anything. It was one of my most empowering experiences.”
The chocolate company was launched with business partners in 2014, using a rented kitchen.
Cacao farmers are marginalized within the commodity industry, she said. “We started to give farmers an alternative to that market by offering higher prices for higher-quality products. The social impact behind what we do is subtle but has largely been what drives me.”
Blanco said she has developed “even more mentors than friends. I’ve gained the best business education through simply doing it,” she said.