The Bronx’s Sol Cacao Preserves Cocoa Farming History While Looking to The Future

The Maloney brothers weave their Trinidadian roots into their craft chocolate, and want to expand for the next generation

In the Bronx’s historic piano manufacturing district, Port Morris, history is being created once again. Since 2017, the neighborhood’s been home to Sol Cacao—the Bronx’s first bean-to-bar chocolate factory, run by three brothers: Dominic, Nicholas and Daniel Maloney, who are ethically crafting a rare, authentic taste of Caribbean cacao. Despite the fact that this 100% Black-owned company only launched in 2016 (originally in Harlem), Sol Cacao’s pure, undiluted chocolate is quickly rising through the artisan ranks. But the Maloney brothers’ passion for chocolate started long before their brand launched. The story really begins in Trinidad.

Daniel Maloney at the Sol Cacao factory, photo by Josh Rubin

“Why Trinidad?” asks youngest brother, Daniel, while showing us around the intimate factory. “Trinidad produces the highest quality cacao. You can’t pick up a history book without hearing Trinidad being mentioned. In terms of quality, Trinidad produces the best.” And the Maloneys understand this on a personal level. “My great grandparents were cacao farmers,” he continues. “My great grandmother was a farmer from Grenada, who went south and landed in Trinidad. What we’re doing here is trying to continue the story of our great grandparents.”

While the original dream was—and still is—to have their own farm in Trinidad to extend their family lineage to become fourth-generation farmers, the Maloneys discovered the agricultural and exporting process out of Trinidad is a long and complicated one. So, they decided to “learn how to make chocolate, build the brand, tell the story and bring people on that journey back to Trinidad” instead, Daniel explains.

Courtesy of Maloney brothers/Instagram

After pouring their own personal finances into the company and making bars as a side hustle from their day jobs, the brothers set up in the Bronx. “That was strategic,” Daniel notes. “My brothers and I were sort of the first 100% Black-owned chocolate factory in the United States, which is crazy because cacao grows in the tropics: Latin America, Southeast Asia, Africa. But the people making it aren’t the people growing it.” When the craft chocolate makers realized this disparity within the predominately white chocolatier industry, they found a calling. “It occurred to us that we could inspire that next generation of chocolate makers, chocolate eaters and chocolatiers,” he says. “And that’s why we landed here.” In the Bronx, the brothers feel they can reach the same diverse demographics.

Daniel Maloney sorting through cacao beans, photo by Josh Rubin

Telling a story of their community and legacy runs throughout every detail of the chocolate producing process, as the siblings only work with premium, naturally sweet cacao bean varieties—criollo and trinitario—and keep ingredients to a minimum of two to three in order to fully embody the taste of true, high-grade cacao. The first four bars in Sol Cacao’s collection—Madagascar, Peru, Ecuador and Columbia—were selected because they hail from the 11 “Fine Flavor” countries that produce top-quality cacao genetics. Each bar’s beans are sourced from the country it’s named after, and the packaging includes notes on flavor profiles; honeydew and toffee for Peru and raisins and plums for Madagascar.

The illustrations featured for the varieties also allude to the Maloney’s heritage and were designed by Daniel’s high school best friend. Additionally, each design features visual components in threes, to represent the three brothers, and the images are significant to the respective country of the bean. The three birds featured on the Ecuador bar, for instance, are native to that country.

The same meticulous attention to detail goes into crafting the bars themselves, beginning with sorting through each of the beans by hand, to running it through their machine multiple times to ensure quality, to finally, aging the chocolate in molds. “The longer it ages, the better it is,” Daniel explains. “You don’t want to do it too quickly, and one month for us is that sweet spot, where there’s no sharp flavors.” The patience required in the process is also why batch numbers were included in their pared-back packaging, as chocolate’s vintage-aspect affects its taste. The batch number lets people know, as Daniel reminds us, “You should be buying chocolate like it’s wine.”

Daniel Maloney making chocolate, photo by Josh Rubin

While the first line of bars introduced the Maloney’s lineage, they’re planning their next collection to reflect the community. “The next wave is going to be more inclusions, more Bronx-based,” Daniel tells us. Already, he’s testing brownie and chocolate sauces, collaborating with friends and other local makers to expand products—and the plans don’t stop with chocolate. “The longterm goal is food security,” he says. While his own background is electrical engineering, and his brothers are in cybersecurity and nursing, they all share a passion for sustainability. He continues, “Beyond chocolate, how are we going to feed nine billion people?”

We’re not trying to maintain what’s here for future generations, we’re trying to replenish

Working toward being a regenerative business is important to Daniel, especially as solar energy fascinates him. “Really our business is a sun business. We’re Sol. Culture and branding is in the sol, the sun lifestyle, where we’re relying on the sun for energy to power our plants,” he tells us. “We’re not trying to maintain what’s here for future generations, we’re trying to replenish. That’s what we’re working toward.”

Hero image of the Maloney brothers courtesy of Sol Cacao