Kate McAleer’s Belfast-based candy company — Bixby & Co. — had a rather unorthodox beginning. It started, in theory, on a golf course.
McAleer, then an undergraduate at New York University, played on the women’s golf team as a student, and during the six-hour games spent out in the sun, she’d develop an appetite. She didn’t want energy bars, though. She wanted candy. Chocolate, to be exact.
“I’ve got a sweet tooth, I won’t deny it,” said McAleer, now 25. “But I felt bad eating your average candy bar. It seemed so unhealthy. I really wanted an alternative.”
Fast forward five years, and McAleer is in the sweet business of crafting artisan, organic chocolate bars, made with pure, GMO-free chocolate, all natural spices, nuts and fruits and no added sugar. It’s candy, all right — candy you can feel good about eating. Since early April, she and her very small crew have been making chocolate out of their certified kitchen at Coastal Farms Food Processing in Belfast.
Her chocolate bars are available at stores including the Belfast Co-op, Megunticook Market in Camden, Atlantic Brewing in Bar Harbor and Whole Foods in Portland. In fact, they are available at Whole Foods stores throughout the Northeast, thanks to a fortuitous partnership with YouthTrade USA, an organization that supports entrepreneurs under the age of 35 who are ecologically or human rights minded. Bixby & Co. is one of more than 35 YouthTrade-certified small companies that produce everything from tortilla chips to body lotion, and which are sold at Whole Foods nationwide.
“I would never have been able to do what I do if it wasn’t for YouthTrade. It’s so hard to get a startup company’s products into a major retailer like Whole Foods, but this gave me the leg up,” said McAleer.
McAleer is originally from the Hudson River Valley area of upstate New York, though she has spent summers and holidays in Rockport with her parents, Donna and Gordon, her whole life. After graduating from NYU and then graduate school at Parsons The New School for Design-Cooper Hewitt, she turned her attention to Bixby & Co., which combined her interests in design, business and food into a perfect entrepreneurial opportunity. She had already received certificates in pastry arts and culinary management from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York and the Ecole Chocolate in Vancouver, British Columbia, when she started Bixby & Co. in 2011 out of her home kitchen in Brooklyn.
“There’s an amazing food scene in Brooklyn, of course, but it just costs so much to live there, and the market is saturated,” she said. “The idea of making a go of it in Maine seemed really appealing.”
When her parents decided to retire to Maine, she decided to come with them and launch her business in full in the midcoast area. On April 1, she moved her candy making machines into a kitchen at Coastal Farms, an incubator for sustainably minded and local food businesses, which also holds small businesses such as Heiwa Tofu, Julie Ann’s Outrageous Foods and Magic Dilly Beans.
Bixby & Co. chocolate bars are small but densely packed, made up of solid blocks of either dark, milk or white chocolate and infused with wild flavors. They range from the salty-sweet (and vegan) Birdie, made with dark chocolate, currents, hazelnuts and sea salt, to the sinfully delicious Knockout, made with milk chocolate, peanuts, cherries and a sprinkle of smoky-hot chipotle pepper.
“I wanted to reinvent the chocolate bar,” said McAleer. “But reinvent it in the sense that I only wanted to use real ingredients. Pure chocolate, high-quality nuts and spices and fruits. It’s candy, and it’s definitely a treat, but it’s not bad for you.”
McAleer might be a little biased, as a self-professed chocoholic, but considering the fact that her candy bars contain no added sugar, no corn syrup or preservatives, and are almost entirely organic, she may have a point.
“Chocolate is good for you,” she said. “Plus, it makes you happy. And what’s better than that?”