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Company Profile: Raphio Chocolate

Raphio Chocolate

On the southwest corner of First and Barstow, near the center of Fresno, California, you’ll find one of the best little chocolate shops in the state. Look hard, because you might miss it.

Raphio’s Chocolate was started in 2015 by Yohanes Makmur and a business partner, both immigrants from Indonesia. They were both working other jobs at the time but wanted something else. Noticing the craft chocolate market and remembering the cacao beans back home, they were surprised to learn that Indonesian chocolate wasn’t even on the map. Originally, they’d hoped to simply be an importer of cacao beans, but life would take them a different direction—much to the benefit of the rest of us.

The pair reached out to their connections back home and found a farmer they liked working with. The farmer shipped them samples and products that both liked, and they started selling them in the U.S. Hopeful, the pair made a massive order of 1.5 tons… more than their supplier could actually handle, as it turned out. The aesthetic quality didn’t meet U.S. producer’s standards, and Yohanes found himself with 1 and a half tons of cacao beans that he didn’t know what to do with.

That’s when his wife Elisia stepped in. She loved the idea of making chocolate from scratch and took those beans, beginning to experiment with them. While Elisia wasn’t the biggest chocolate fanatic, her husband and children were, and she was making chocolate for them. Her standard was simple: whatever chocolate she made had to be good enough for her kids. Not simply in taste, but in quality. Nothing artificial, nothing she wouldn’t want her kids eating. 

That standard has remained the same, since. And, when Yohanes decided to begin selling this chocolate, he named the shop accordingly: Raphio, after his sons Raphael and Rio. 

Among their greatest challenges, as a microfactory, has been space. It’s obvious when you stand in the front of their store. It’s beautiful and stacked temptingly with cacao beans, cacao tea, chocolates, bonbons, and espresso. You can see the space where they make the chocolate through a small glass window. Speaking as someone who’s been back there for a tour, trust me: there’s not much more space than you can see. As such, they often have to move equipment, clean, and disinfect between tasks, simply because they don’t have the room for a distributed factory space. 

They hope to expand as the Coronavirus pandemic reaches its end, maybe with the hope of two of their most reliable allies. The first is the CMTC, which helped them start operations, offered grants for human resources trainings, and assisted them in marketing through the local advisor, Craig Scharton. This is the same man who connected them to many of their current partners. The second notable partner is the Small Business Development Center, who has offered low-cost and free webinars, teaching them how to run a business and build their brand.

Perhaps this local support—always strong in the Fresno area—is part of the reason that, by Yohanes’s own admission, Raphio’s has a dedicated passion for keeping their partners local. 

Among their first and most notable partners are Enzo’s Olive Oil, who contributes the oil that makes one of their most delectable bars, and local coffee giant Kuppajoy. They consulted with Kuppajoy before building their brand and, since opening, have offered chocolate coffee beans and espresso, both sourced from Kuppajoy. Meanwhile, Kuppajoy is one of the most reliable places to find Raphio’s chocolate bars, lately, they’ve even expanded their local outreach to nearby Madera, where Ficklin Vineyard’s Port Wine plays a crucial part in the making of Raphio’s delicious and hard-to-get bon bons. 

Raphio’s offerings aren’t limited to chocolate. Before the pandemic, they’d also began to focus on education, offering incredibly informative tours of the factory, complete with details about the chocolate harvesting process and life in Indonesia. You’re given a chance to touch the chocolate, taste it, smell it, breathe it. In the future, they hope to grow their educational offerings, maybe making them extracurricular opportunities for local schools and senior homes. Yohanes hopes to use this education to change childrens’ eating habits at a young age, showing them the benefits of dark chocolate and real chocolate, as opposed to the “chocolate-flavored sugar” you’ll find in grocery aisles. 

Likewise, they want a cultural lesson wrapped into the tour, as well. Yohanes would like to teach about the places these cacao beans originate from, possibly partnering with local organizations to bring artifacts to show children. 

But, this comes back to the problem of space. The factory floor is too small for them to offer tours outside of weekends, when schools are closed and people are staying inside, away from the Valley heat. When they expand, they hope to keep this goal of education in mind, researching circulation, space planning, and how people move from one spot to another to expand in a way that allows them to offer tours and increase production without impeding each other.

Yohanes says that, when you pay attention to the ingredients of your food, you shouldn’t simply look at health. You need to pay attention of how it’s made, where, and by who. This chocolate is craft, he says. Its story isn’t limited to Fresno. The farmers back in Indonesia are an integral part of it, and part of the reason for the extra price of the chocolate is that the money goes directly to farmers to better their family’s lives.

One question remains, though: what is Yohanes’s favorite chocolate on offer? He admits that chocolate is an enormous weakness of his, and doesn’t hesitate on his answer: his favorite is the dark chocolate from Tanzania, 72%. It starts like eating honey, and as it melts gives way to flavors of fruits and berries. After you swallow, it lingers on your tongue with a nice tang. Yohanes describes the process of a “rollercoaster of flavors” that is “playing a concert in your mouth.”

It shouldn’t be any surprise that the bar has won competitions in places as far away as London. 

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Volt Institute

Written by Tyler Richardson and Kevin Fox

It’s an exciting time at VOLT Institute. Two years of planning for scaled-out manufacturing training is finally coming to fruition. New equipment is arriving and being assembled. Additional instructors are coming onboard. Guided by an advisory board comprised of local employers, the organization seeks to adjust and move forward quickly. This includes changes to allow for operations amidst a global pandemic.

While the debates over masks, indoor dining, and county-specific guidelines continue, VOLT Institute never missed a beat. VOLT staff developed and implemented a comprehensive plan to keep students engaged and progressing toward in-demand careers in manufacturing with higher wages and job security. When school closures began in late March, VOLT had remote learning in place and students transitioned seamlessly. By April, other VOLT Institute training opportunities also moved into the virtual realm. 

The Supervisor Development Academy operated in partnership with Ag Safe began meeting online with workshops adjusted to two hour time blocks instead of four. Admittedly, there were concerns that this training for frontline supervisors to tackle real world situations while managing teams would not be as effective in a virtual space, but Ag Safe trainer Angelina Ceja reported that feedback from participants in this workshop remains positive. Volt’s Supervisor Development Academy gives supervisors a foundation to develop skills essential to furthering their personal and organizational success. The program addresses leadership, communication, conflict resolution, planning, and team building with an emphasis on building peer-to-peer relationships.

VOLT Institute’s popular efficiency training, Career Accelerator Program (CAP), taught by Beaudette Consulting INC. was made available remotely as well. This valuable curriculum focuses on organizational change management, continuous improvement, employee engagement, process improvement, and critical thinking problem solving are the “soft skill” training industry demands. Student survey results indicated that the length of time for each of the online training sessions was appropriate and engaging and either met or exceeded expectations. 

VOLT Institute campus reopened June 15 it was with strict COVID-19 protocols in place including mandatory wearing of masks. To ensure social distancing, students comfortable returning to the downtown Modesto campus continued their training on campus by appointment. One-on-one instruction is being offered by VOLT instructors to help students make up time lost during the mandatory shutdown.

Through it all, VOLT administration continues developing new partnerships with regional manufacturers such as the new internship program with Flowers Baking Co. This partnership gives VOLT students an opportunity to receive valuable work experience. Recently, two VOLT graduates have been accepted into E. & J. Gallo Winery’s maintenance apprenticeship program. Other VOLT graduates have started new careers in manufacturing at California’s oldest family-owned dairy, Crystal Creamery and the world’s largest plastic pipe manufacturer, JM Eagle.  Reports from VOLT alumni about promotions and wage increases are too numerous to list but VOLT is especially proud of its 96% job placement rate. 

VOLT also partnered with Valley First Credit Union to provide loans to students. This allows students looking to improve their long-term wage outcomes to apply for funding with most payments deferrable until the program is complete. The application process is online and very user-friendly. In addition, students get to participate in financial wellness training. Before the availability of the loan program, some potential students were deterred by the cost, which is low compared to similar programs of VOLT’s caliber but still represented a modest financial investment.

VOLT’s Senior Leadership Series in partnership with Next Gear Consulting is back. The series is designed to teach top level manufacturing and other executives important skills in strategic planning, building a positive company culture and leadership. Taught by Kristi Marsella, CEO of Next Gear Consulting, and former VP of Human Resources at G3 and E. & J. Gallo Winery, this series is a great opportunity to improve leadership skills. 

One of the most in demand technical skills for plant maintenance mechanics to have as the fourth industrial revolution progresses is a solid understanding of the internet of things. The implementation of complex automation has become the standard throughout industry. VOLT Institute’s partnership with Automation Group to teach both introductory and intermediate Programmable Logic Controls (PLC) courses as part of the award-winning industrial maintenance mechanics programs in a 20-hour boot camps are efficient and helpful for participants. Three boot camps are being offered for the summer session through August and September with assistance from California Manufacturing Technology Consulting (CMTC). Reduced student capacity for the training helps accommodate social distancing protocols.

As VOLT continues to receive deliveries from Amatrol, unpack and install new mechatronic, process control, and advanced electrical training equipment from the shipping crates, the vision first conceived three years ago starts to fall into place. Unskilled or semi-skilled workers have the opportunities to acquire the aptitude and the attitude to be competitive in a fast-paced manufacturing environment. They can earn higher wages with job security while fueling a vibrant, healthy economy in the Central Valley Region by strengthening each company’s most valuable asset: their people. All this happens while simultaneously hearing the voices from the advisory board and responding to the needs of investor partners in a rapidly evolving manufacturing industry. Training in electro-mechanical work with advanced programmable logic controls experience and access to nationally-recognized certifications such as National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) coupled with the new technology training are a pathway for long term sustainability for California’s Central Valley manufacturing industry. 

In the midst of a global pandemic, one thing stands out. Strategic planning is how to move forward. The ability to be nimble is a key component to the success of any strategic plan. If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan, not the goal. VOLT Institute is proud to be part of the solution for California’s Central Valley manufacturing industry. Higher wages and job security are very good ways to attract new talent to the California manufacturing industry and grow quality of life for those already living in the area. Whether the talent is new to the area or locals with deep roots one thing is certain: VOLT will continue to thrive and provide the quality of training everyone in the area deserves.