A Family That Creates Together, Stays Together.
Ventura, California is home to many local small businesses, but there are none like Ex-Voto Chocolates and Confections. Offering handcrafted chocolates, organic based ice cream, toffee, house made nut butters, fresh caramel, espresso drinks and much more. This gem has captured the hearts of their patrons using gourmet chocolate that is fair trade and is of single origin.
Owned and operated by the mother daughter duo, Jennifer Smith and Sophia Smith-Grunder, it took time for them to come up with a name that would fit their passion for confections; that is when they settled upon Ex-Voto. The term “ex-voto” is Latin for “milagro” and by definition, it means an offering given in gratitude for an answered prayer.
This small but mighty business started in 2015 with Jennifer selling her decadent chocolates at the local farmers market in Ojai, California. Two years later, they opened their storefront and flagship business in Midtown, Ventura. Initially, Jennifer encouraged her daughter to focus on a cooking and baking career of her own. It just so happens that Sophia makes a phenomenal caramel, amongst other things, better than Jennifer could of dreamed. Thus, Ex-Voto grew into a run and operated family business. The business has boomed since the duo settled in Ventura and have been making history ever since.
VC Social got the chance to sit down with Jennifer and get to know the history behind the business and what ignited their future. First things first, a bit about Jennifer: she began cooking when she was just 5-years old and is completely self taught. Her passion led her to culinary school in San Francisco studying pastry and bread making. Although, she continued to educate herself, take specialty classes online and certifications courses in hopes to figure out what avenue truly felt right to her. Jennifer’s intuitive spirit led her to chocolate as she started to see the word popping up in more ways than one. It was enough to spark her interest to teach herself the craft.
Chocolate, Chocolate And More Chocolate!
Jennifer fell in love with how complex, scientific, challenging, and creative chocolate can be. In turn, she draws inspiration from culture, food and nature resulting in truly complex flavor profiles that otherwise wouldn’t be found elsewhere. Her creations take form of one item and converging it with another. This can be seen in Ex-Voto chocolates, like the Sweet Pecan & Chili Gianduja (in dark chocolate) or the Key Lime (paired with white chocolate ganache).
Jennifer has developed close relationships with her patrons; she pays close attention to what customers are asking for and most importantly when they want it. This has played an important role in their business model and identifying their target market. Ex-Voto began focusing on seasonal items to pay homage to the time of year and most importantly what the seasons represent. Almost all year around you can find your favorites like their Turtles (salted caramel with slow roasted almonds) or the house-made peanut butter buddhas in milk or vegan dark chocolate.
It’s Springtime here in Ventura and the Ex-Voto team has been working hard on their seasonal selection; it comes in different shapes, colors and textures including: eggs, bunnies and flower molds. A few of their Spring seasonal items include the Baklava Caramel eggs (using honey cinnamon caramel and pistachios), Pomegranate Rose in dark chocolate, Orange Blossom in white/dark chocolate, and Bananas Foster in milk chocolate, just to name a few.
Is your mouth watering yet?
The Unique Ice Cream Flavors
Both Jennifer and Sophia come up with recipes by combining different notes, textures and complementary flavors that are well balanced to make heavenly combinations.
Ice cream is a childhood favorite for Jennifer and she has created each one offered at Ex-Voto to perfection. We asked her how she comes up with the recipes for her batches and she shared that most is trial and error. Like her banana honeycomb recipe, Jennifer explained that she had to experiment to find the best way to bring out the banana flavor considering its rather starchy. Her first initial idea was to do banana and peanut butter but she realized that both flavors were too flat. She tasted, processed and talked with Sophia and other employees, bringing up potential matches until they came up with honeycomb. It gives the banana a complementary sweetness, crunch and bitterness.
One of the flavors VC Social favored was her in-house made Queso Fresco y Miel ice cream. Jennifer explained that it took her over 15 tries to find the perfect balance between the Mexican based salty soft cheese and sweet notes of honey. The flavor has become one of their best sellers and permanently remains on their ice cream selection. The combination is almost cheesecake-like and pairs well with house-made marshmallow creme that is lightly toasted with a torch in front of you.
By keeping up with customer demand their business has created a sufficient following. Most importantly, Ex-Voto takes pride in the relationships that they form with each and every customer that walks through their door. We spoke briefly to a customer, Arlene, who told us that Ex-Voto is one of her favorite places to frequent. She loves the quality of their products and whenever her grand-daughter is back in town from college, they make it a point to stop in and grab a scoop of ice cream. Their patrons genuinely feel like they are part of the family and their support in the business continues to other generations.
Supporting Our Community
It was an absolute pleasure chatting with Jennifer and getting to know the ins and outs of her and Sophia’s daily routine and life at Ex-Voto. As we continued to chat after the interview, Jennifer shared another reason why she works as hard as she does. Her son Seth, 21, a student and surfer, has an extremely rare form of cancer called Synovial Sarcoma, one that has very little research on. If you’ve ever wondered why it’s important to support our community and small local businesses, this is why.
Please visit Seth’s website for more information about his journey, treatment and the cancer research fundraiser his family has set up. If you would like to help contribute to their cause for a cure, you can donate directly or find Seth’s custom sticker at Ex-Voto’s storefront location or online here.
Thank you again Jennifer, Sophia and Ex-Voto team for giving VC Social the opportunity to get to know you and discover some new favorite sweet treats!