Ella Schneider ’26 launched an award-winning bean-to-bar chocolate company with her father.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, some people made sourdough starter. Ella Schneider ’26 made chocolate. She and her father, Steven Schneider, purchased a melanger—a stone-on-stone chocolate grinder—in January 2020, just before the pandemic. But it was during the long hours of lockdown that the Wakefield, R.I., residents experimented with different varieties of cacao beans—along with sugar, milk, and cocoa butter—to perfect their recipes. Ella gave bars out to friends and teachers, while her father, an OB-GYN at South County Hospital, gave them out at work. “We got such great feedback,” she says, “we thought we might actually have something.”
It turns out they had the seeds of a business. In 2021, the Schneiders started Gansett Craft Chocolate, now Rhode Island’s only bean-to-bar gourmet chocolate company. In the past year, they’ve sold thousands of chocolate bars and won national awards. Ella, a business major at URI, has been perfecting the company’s business plan with the help of Launch Lab, an initiative combining mentorship, networking, and events for budding entrepreneurs on campus. “It helped us map out our true costs and better plan for the future,” she says.
Steven Schneider has long been obsessed with small-batch bean-to-bar chocolate and got his daughter hooked when they toured a chocolate maker in 2013. When they got serious about experimenting, they used cacao beans from a small producer in Peru. “They come in smaller quantities and cost more, but they were the best ones we tried,” Steven says. The Schneiders also add less sugar—just 30 percent—compared to some commercial chocolate makers who use up to 70 percent. So, the pure taste of the chocolate comes through.
Father and daughter started making dark chocolate, then milk, before getting increasingly creative with recipes—like Rhode Island coffee milk, a white chocolate and coffee combo. “It’s amazing how much it tastes like the drink,” Ella says. “It’s our most popular flavor now.” Other top sellers include Lil’ Rhody Sea Salt and 70% Dark Brown Butter Sage. For next Easter, they are considering releasing a “What’s Up Doc” bar, with carrot cake flavor. (A milk chocolate with everything bagel spice, on the other hand, didn’t make it off the drawing board. “That was just gross,” Ella says.)
Despite being new to the industry, the Schneiders achieved a sweet victory at the 2022 Chocolate Alliance Awards when they were among six out of 150 entries to win a gold medal for their milk chocolate—conferring instant acclaim on their fledgling enterprise. “It was a really emotional day for my dad,” Ella says. “He cried a little.” Since then, they’ve also won a gold for their Rhode Island coffee milk and a silver for milk chocolate at the 2023 Craft Chocolat Challenge, a fledgling bean-to-bar chocolate competition sponsored by Kentucky craft chocolatiers Chocolat Inn & Cafe.
The business has brought the Schneiders closer together, as they bounce ideas off each other and spend long hours roasting beans and setting chocolate bars in molds. “Ella is a go-getter and dedicated to the business,” says Steve. “When other students are sleeping on weekends, she’s spending most of her Sundays with me making chocolate.”
Ella plans to continue working for the business part time while she earns her URI degree, then launch the business full time in a storefront upon graduation. Even after all the hard work, she remains a chocolate lover herself. Her favorite flavor? “Milk chocolate,” she says. “You can never go wrong with that.”