Through confections and activism, entrepreneurial sisters work to help people

The inspiration for Jannah and Elle Sanchez’s business and nonprofit organization can be traced back to a cacao tree sprouting from the yard of their childhood home in the Philippines. A love for chocolate had taken root, accompanied by knowledge of the sometimes inhumane work conditions under which its ingredients are harvested.

The sisters founded their confectionary company, Tsokolate (pronounced cho-ko-lat-eh) in January 2020 after moving to Columbia. They had operated similar businesses in New York and Los Angeles before relocating to Missouri.

The local and ethical sourcing of ingredients is a top priority for the Sanchez sisters. Cacao is produced by an industry riddled with unethical labor practices, including child labor and human trafficking.

Tsokolate focuses on local, ethical sourcing of ingredients. | Katie Kriz/Missouri Business Alert

The Sanchezes have gone beyond simply working to ensure that their products are ethically sourced, by founding their own nonprofit organization, Juste Deserts. The name means “poetic justice” in French, and the organization aims to prevent human trafficking by increasing awareness of the issue and providing culinary training to human trafficking survivors to help them develop job skills.

Upon arriving in Columbia, the sisters sought to create a distinguishing characteristic for their sweet snacks that would separate the business from their previous catering company. Tsokolate was born, and it soon found a niche within the community.

“We really wanted to focus on things that are good for you, but also still delicious,” Jannah Sanchez said. “We started doing vegan and gluten-free superfoods. Each flavor has different health benefits to it.”

They have formed relationships with vendors at the Columbia Farmers Market, and their sweets are sold at multiple local businesses.

“We do our best to source everything locally,” Jannah said. “We are really thinking about the people that we create relationships with, making sure that we use local farmers and give credit where credit is due.”

Meanwhile, the sisters also work to grow their nonprofit organization. Juste Deserts provides trafficking survivors instruction in cake decorating, but the Sanchezes both dream of expanding to other culinary arts. They want to provide an avenue for survivors to find employment.

They take their activism a step further through partnerships with local organizations aimed at stopping human trafficking. For the sisters, success is measured by the difference they can make in just one person’s life.

“It’s not really about us,” Jannah Sanchez said. “It’s really about the people that we get to help and generating income so that we can help more people.”

Tsokolate and Juste Deserts are winners of a Kindness in Business award in the Kindness to Employees category. The awards recognize Boone County businesses and organizations that have exhibited and promoted kindness during the past year.

Missouri Business Alert spoke with the Sanchezes about Tsokolate, Juste Deserts and their efforts to show kindness. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Missouri Business Alert: How do you imagine Juste Deserts will grow in the future?

Elle Sanchez: When you know about human trafficking, there’s no way that you can turn your back ever again. Aside from opening a nonprofit, there’s got to be at least some way of helping the victims who cannot call for help. I realized, why don’t I just make a really simple hand signal that even kids can use. It’s a “C” sign (to cry for help). It’s a simple sign, and even kids can make that sign if they are in trouble.

MBA: What are some of your favorite moments you have experienced with the business?

Jannah Sanchez: It’s always, like, a mind-blowing experience when someone reaches out and asks “Do you want to, like, do this together?” … Even though we just moved here, we have been so welcomed. … When we first opened our booth at the farmers market, all of the farmers went to our booth, and we had a photo taken with all of them. They were so happy, and we love representing them in our chocolates. That’s an accomplishment. I think, for me, that’s success.

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