Meet the founder Hernan Lauber and co-owner Jeremy Burnich of Oodaalolly
Hernan Lauber is the founder. His father, Albert, is a classically trained baker, pastry chef, and 5th generation Swiss chocolatier and chocolate maker. Hernan’s dad has been working with chocolate since Hernan’s been alive so in Hernan’s opinion his father is probably one of the best chocolatiers and chocolate makers in the US.
Essentially Hernan grew up in a chocolate factory. He started washing dishes in 4th grade and moved on from there: packing, decorating, enrobing, grinding hot chocolate, making truffles - basically whatever needed to be done. It was very much a family business—everyone worked in the factory when not at school or participating in sports.
All throughout middle school, High School, college, and even graduate school Hernan helped out if he was around. He never really thought he would follow in the family business (his youngest sister is also a pastry chef who apprenticed in Switzerland) but sometimes life has an interesting way of taking you to unexpected places.
Jeremy Burnich is co-owner. He unofficially joined Oodaalolly in July 2019. He didn't know it at the time. He has known Hernan going on 20 years but only got bitten by the chocolate bug after he agreed to help out with some sales and marketing activities in San Francisco.
“I couldn’t tell you why I made the trip or how it came up or anything. For some reason, I needed to get out of Pittsburgh for a weekend and decided, what the hell. Since then, my interest in chocolate and chocolate making started as a drip that turned into a stream. I enjoy it, and it seems to suit my temperament.”
What inspired you to start your brand?
Hernan: I remember when Bean-to-Bar chocolate started coming onto the scene in the late aughts - 2007 / 2008ish. I had just moved to Switzerland at the time and had access to all this amazing local Swiss chocolate so bean-to-bar wasn’t fully on my radar yet. A bunch of people were telling me about this company that was around so I tried the chocolate and felt like it was quite underwhelming - very gritty, not balanced, and way too much bitter flavors.
When I finally did move back to the US in 2016, after living in Sydney Australia for almost six years, I tried another chocolate bar that was using cacao sourced from the Philippines and I was super-excited to try it and again I found it underwhelming. It wasn’t bad tasting per se, it’s just not what I had grown accustomed to, which is chocolate that is super smooth, not overly sweet, and balanced in terms of flavor.
I thought to myself that I could make a better chocolate bar using Philippine cacao so that’s when I started the brand. In some ways it was a way for me to reconnect with my Filipino roots and to rediscover some of the amazing agricultural products, traditions, and history that I knew very little about. I never really had any grand ambitions initially, it was just a fun side project that has now grown into something bigger. Once Jeremy joined, it was adding a piece of the puzzle that I didn’t even really know was missing.
Jeremy: I had no intention of becoming a chocolate maker, but I figured that if I were going to help market and sell chocolate, I had better know how to make it. It was one of those happy accidents though and I found that I enjoyed it. There’s a lot of problem-solving but a lot that is just out of your hands. I also like that the temperatures (apart from roasting) are relatively low—so you can experiment without having to worry about getting burned.
I don’t think there’s a “right” way to make chocolate. It’s a matter of taste and style. I prefer creamy chocolate over a bar of grittier Mexican-style chocolate. However, I like to think that the Mexican style makes better drinking chocolate than a finely conched Swiss chocolate. I think Hernan is more of a traditionalist though!
Why is the work you do through your platform so important?
Hernan & Jeremy: We think the importance of what we are doing has grown as we’ve gotten farther into this journey and met more Fil-Am and Asian entrepreneurs, business people, and artists. Our original packaging is based on the filigree or embroidering of a barong tagalog. We wanted to have the Filipino roots aspect built into the design but a little more subtle. At the time Hernan also wanted the bars to feel heavy and to be a unique shape. The unique shape idea hasn’t been a great idea in terms of stocking in stores but, live and learn.
As we’ve been running the business, and collaborating with different companies and entrepreneurs, we’ve consciously decided to lean in harder on the Philippine sourced aspects and qualities of what we are doing. A lot of that has just been inspired by the people we’ve met and been able to work with. There’s a lot of really interesting things happening in the Fil-Am community and I think our generation is starting to really find their voice in terms of what they want to express and how they want to do that.
That’s why we’ve decided to bring a lot of the packaging manufacturing and design in-house as we experiment with smaller batches and unique flavors especially Asian-flavors. Jeremy has been instrumental in making that happen. He’s a 3D printing and design guru so having that expertise really allows us to push the boundaries of what’s possible in terms of storytelling, design, and creativity. It gives us an opportunity to share the things we are learning and exploring through our product offerings.
Right now our packaging is in transition. You could say we’re like one of those businesses that have a sign on scaffolding that says, “Come on in, we’re open during construction.”
Our goal is to have packaging that reflects our Swiss/Filipino Roots. For example, this year we started producing our chocolate molds in-house. We have been adapting and integrating textile patterns to represent Filipino and Indigenous pre-colonial Filipino culture visually. With each bar, we tell the story of that weave - where it comes from, what it signifies, and why it's special.
Oodaalolly is Filipino-owned, and since Hernan started it, the focus has been on using Filipino flavors and ingredients. To compete, not only does the chocolate have to be good, but it has to stand out. We think this is an authentic way to do that.
When we talk about the chocolate origin, we want to talk about more than just the beans. We want our bars to be a medium for education and pride. We are just starting to launch our Art Bar Series where we collaborate with an artist and create a chocolate bar inspired by their work.
It’s an ongoing process and we are learning by doing.
What does courage mean to you?
Courage is so multi-faceted I think it’s hard to break it down in simple terms; however, one way I think of courage is simply having faith when faced with the unknown. Faith in yourself. Faith in your own voice. Faith that what you think, believe, and feel is valid and true. Faith that if you are open the universe will teach you the lesson you need to learn. If you have that faith then by default you are being courageous.
Where can we expect to see you in the next few years?
Scaling up, getting the word out, and potentially having a small storefront—a place for people to come to visit. We’ve learned a lot over the past few years so we think there is an opportunity to potentially expand into other product categories while using other ingredients or raw materials sourced from the Philippines.
Initially this was a fun side-hustle where we were thinking let’s see where it goes but almost by accident, what we have created is an infrastructure that could allow us to potentially expand into other Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) market segments. Jeremy and I have a few different product ideas that we have been noodling on for some time and we have some ideas on how to explore them further.
Thank you so much Hernan and Jeremy for sharing your story with us! Tuk Tuk Box is proud to exclusively feature Southeast Asian ingredients and include refugee, migrant, and generational stories in every box.
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