By Kat Wojtylak
Phyllis LeBlanc seems to have two separate lives. By the light of day she runs the helm of Harbor Sweets as CEO. By evenings and in what spare time she has, she’s a dressage rider and board member for the New England Dressage Association. It seems like most equestrians lead dual lives and can relate to this scenario. What makes her special in terms of Good Food Hunting is that she’s a foodie and has been able to incorporate her love of chocolate and passion for horses all into one. Intrigued? Then please read on.
PLB: I started taking riding lessons when I was thirteen. Although it seems as if longer because I had been begging my parents for a horse and taking every pony ride at the fair since I could say the word ‘pony.’ My first pony was given to me by a friend of my parents to see if I would really do all the work that was involved. He was a 14.1 h. pinto named Sequoia. I rode him all around the neighborhood even doing my paper route by horseback. I had several more horses while I was in high school and did pony club as well, including some local hunter events. I kept my horses at home but worked at a fancy hunter barn to support my own horses. That was just the beginning.
KW: Do you currently own a horse and if you do, tell us a little bit about them? Such as are you currently competing and what are some of the goals you’re working on?
PLB: I own a wonderful Oldenburg gelding named Chiron. We are competing at 4th level dressage. He is a wonderful teacher and I am so fortunate to have found him. After looking for over a year in 13 states and Europe I found him in Pennsylvania. I actually bought him from the woman who bred him, raised him and trained him up until I bought him two years ago. We have become fast friends, and she now holds the title of being Chiron’s godmother.
KW: What’s your favorite horsey memory?
PLB: My favorite memory is of my horse Nicky. He was the horse my father bought for me after I proved I would do the work with my pony. We bought him for $150.00. If we hadn’t had bought him, he probably would have gone to the auction. He was skin and bones and in terrible shape. With some food and lots of TLC from a teenage girl, he blossomed into a beautiful strawberry roan Appaloosa. He followed me around the barn whenever I did chores leaving the herd of horses to be in my company. All I had to do was whistle and he’d come in from the field. Truly a dream come true for both me and Nicky.
KW: Aww, those kind of memories are the best! Okay now that we have horses covered, what’s your connection to the food industry?
PLB: I own Harbor Sweets. We make handcrafted gourmet chocolates and sell them through our mail order catalog and website, as well as gift and gourmet stores around the country.
KW: Tell us about how you got your start with Harbor Sweets in the first place.
I was working my way through college and needed a part time job. I saw an ad for candy dippers at Harbor Sweets and thought that sounded like fun. The company was just a little start-up at the time. I loved it and worked my way up in the company as it grew until I purchased majority control 14 years ago. We are celebrating our 4oth anniversary this year!
KW: Congratulations on your accomplishments! Now what is this unique connection in that you combine your love of horses with chocolate. How is that possible, and could you elaborate a bit for our readers?
PLB: While I was working at Harbor Sweets, this is before I bought the company, I was going to graduate school at night studying for my MBA at Boston University. I had to write a business plan for a class in Entrepreneurship. I had struggled to find gifts for my friends at the barn, my trainer and blacksmith. What I did was write a business plan for Dark Horse Chocolates, a line of gift packaged gourmet chocolates with designs that would appeal to equestrians. After graduating, we launched the Dark Horse Chocolates line through Harbor Sweets. It paid for all of its development costs the first four weeks it was on the market. It was shortly after that that I bought Harbor Sweets from the founder.
KW: That’s amazing you could combine your love for horses into a tangible business that is still going strong. I actually did a tour already of your factory (which you can read about here), but since not everyone is privy to all these details, tell us where people can learn more about Harbor Sweets.
PLB: Our website is Harborsweets.com or anyone can come and tour our chocolate factory as you did. During the tour you can watch the chocolates being made and taste a sample! We’re located at 85 Leavitt Street in Salem, Massachusetts.
KW: Before we go, any special words to live by?
PLB: Two expressions that I try to live by. The first is one I was brought up with, and interestingly enough was also the philosophy of the founder of Harbor Sweets who was my mentor. It is “Do unto others as you would have done to you”. The second is to “trust your gut”.
It was great fun learning about Phyllis and Harbor Sweets! Stay tuned as in the next few months as I’ll showcase not only more tidbits on Dark Horse Chocolates, but on other equestrians leading dual lives in the food industry.
To full plates and eating your tarte out.
About the writer: Author Kat Wojtylak is a horse enthusiast turned food blogger. She maintains a day job in the horse world handling marketing and brand support to various companies, while enjoying her evenings and weekends writing recipes and blogging all about her culinary experiences. Visit her blog at EatYourTarteOut.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.