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Starting a Business After Age 50

More profiles of encore entrepreneurs

(page 1 of 5)

Ready to move on after decades of experience, but not ready to retire? Consider becoming an encore entrepreneur: someone who takes over or starts a business in a field different from their main career. Many people are doing it in middle age, including the four individuals and one couple profiled in the following pages.

They Asked “What’s Next?” and the Answer Was “Chocolate”

Pam and Bob Cooper at their farm in Keauhou Mauka.

Photo: Lee Ann Bowman

“We’d been coming to Hawaii for vacations for 20 years and fell in love with Kona, bought the farm and moved. We were just planning on semi-retiring (smile sign). Right?”

Pamela Cooper wryly emailed that message in answer to why she and her husband, Bob, bought a Kona cacao farm in 1996 when they didn’t know anything about farming or chocolate. Their 6 acres in Keauhou Mauka is now home to the award-winning Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory, the first chocolate-growing-and-manufacturing farm in the Islands and it’s all because they believe their company motto, “Chocolate is Aloha.”

The couple from North Carolina worked at varied jobs during their careers. When they hit their 50s, they asked, “What’s Next?”

The answer came when they were visiting Kona and a Realtor friend showed them the property. It was love at first sight. They went home, sold everything and moved to Kona. A caretaker was already on the property and so were cacao, macadamia-nut and coffee trees – lots of them.

At first, they thought it would be a “grand hobby,” says Pamela, but then they realized they wanted to work the farm and encourage others to grow cacao. “When you come here and it’s so beautiful, you want to give back,” she says.

By 1998, they had opened an online “Hawaii General Store,” offering local merchants a website where they could sell their products, everything from coffee to honey to handcrafted items. The website was eventually sold.

Bob took what he was learning on the job and started teaching people how to grow cacao. The Coopers held workshops at the farm, which eventually led to what they do today: offer tours of the orchard and demonstrations of the chocolate-making process at their factory.

As you arrive at the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory – up a winding road surrounded by lush vegetation – you can already hear Bob Cooper softly urging people to take a seat under the umbrella of a huge monkeypod tree. As he talks about how chocolate is made, an employee passes out small paper cups with samples of milk chocolate, dark Forastero chocolate and Criollo dark chocolate, the “Rolls Royce” of chocolate.

Chocolate production is a difficult process, so the Coopers don’t have a lot of spare time and an occasional vacation is likely a weekend on another island. But Pam Cooper says they are content.

“Every day at pau hana time we sit on our lanai and enjoy the view and peacefulness.”

Besides advocating for quality chocolate, the Coopers want to encourage other encore entrepreneurs.

“Just be willing to put 100-percent-plus into what your heart is telling you to do. Be prepared to say, ‘I’m glad we did’ instead of ‘Wish we would have,’ ” Pam Cooper says with a knowing smile.


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