A Conversation With Kim Hack

Food, Tastemakers
Kim Hack Cocoa Co
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Kim Hack Cocoa Co

Photo: Jennifer Marx Photography

At the risk of sounding like, well, like a creep, I want to come back as Kim Hack in my next life.

The Chicagoland native enjoyed a successful career as an advertising creative and marketing executive before deciding, after much contemplation with her husband, to take the leap to open Cocoa + Co., Old Town’s answer to the happiest place on earth. And have we talked about how much I love chocolate? Because we should. I really, really love chocolate.

Cocoa + Co., which opened Spring 2015, is my current favorite spot for pastries, baked goods (some are recipes from the venerable Gale Gand) and confections from small to mid-sized artisan chocolate producers. The shop, which bills itself as having “Chicago’s largest collection of gourmet chocolate products,” also offers hot and frozen hot chocolate, coffee, and an array of other specialty beverages.

The cafe features a a wall of more than 175 chocolate bars, plus specialty treats and the best ice cream sandwiches I’ve ever had, and I’m no stranger to anything with ‘ice cream’ in its name. If you love chocolate, you’ll love Cocoa + Co. and the woman behind the counter is as interesting as her inventory is decadent. 

In August, 2001, Kim was working in marketing in the wine industry and her world travels exposed her to the concept of terroir, the way in which a wine’s taste is shaped by the climate, slope and soil of the specific place where it’s grown. On the very same trip, she came across an article about a rare chocolate grown in Hawaii and its unique flavor profile. After 14 years and a lot of sweat equity, Kim finally stepped away from the corporate world opened her dream business. And um, my dream business.

We chatted with Kim to learn more about what it’s like to spend every day surrounded by chocolate from around the world.

smores-cocoa-co

Photo: Jennifer Marx Photography

What was your first job out of college?

I went from college right to art grad school and earned rent money waitressing.  I loved the pace in a busy, high-end restaurant, but wasn’t always as focused during service as I needed to be. Eventually I came flying through the kitchen door with a champagne bucket and a tray of glasses one too many times and was fired.

What led you to the job you have now?

It’s been a long, strange trip for sure!  After a career as an advertising creative and yet more tuition (Kellogg biz school), I managed businesses in several completely unrelated industries (consumer packaged goods, oil and gas, wine). I also did strategic consulting for companies both large and small, and helped found an angel investor network focused on rebuilding Chicago’s local food system before finally deciding to bootstrap Cocoa + Co.

Cocoa-Co-ChocolateBark

Photo: Jennifer Marx Photography

How do you start each day?

After getting dressed for the entire day (I hate to change if I can avoid it!), I usually have a protein-heavy breakfast while doing back-office stuff like ordering and paying bills.  NPR is constantly in the background.  When traffic lets up a bit (fingers crossed) I head down to the store. If I don’t have any critical calls to make I like to ponder in silence.

What does your typical work day look like?

I’m usually on the computer by 7:45 each morning, then in the store from about 10:30-4-ish.  I need to be better about getting some lunch, someday. Usually I can’t make it happen so I’m ravenous by the time I get home about 5 and have a pre-dinner. Nothing good comes from eating a pre-dinner.

I’ll do another hour or so of work before making a real dinner for my husband and me. After dishes (well, actually, my fabulous husband usually does the dishes), I’ll do another hour or two of work.  If I’m lucky, it’s mindless bookkeeping so I can do it in front of the TV for a bit.  Then, as much reading in bed as I can before my eyelids flutter.

What is your favorite meal to eat for lunch?

Something surprising, healthy and–most importantly–made by someone else and set right in front of me.  See above.

cocoa--co-pastries-1

Photo: Jennifer Marx Photography

It’s 5:00 p.m.on a Friday. What’s in your glass?

Wine, thank God!

What is your favorite room of your home and why?

The kitchen/family room.  Is there even a close second?

If you could get on a plane and go anywhere right now, where would you go?

Italy.  It’s where I’ve lived my previous lives.

What is the one thing on your bucket list you most look forward to?

Honestly, I don’t have a bucket list.  If there’s something that important, I just go and do it.

What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?

In the contest of business, “you can please people or get things done, but you can’t do both at the same time.  Pick one and get over it.”

cocoa and co sweets

Photo: Jennifer Marx Photography

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