Why Oliver and Jay started Primo Botanica Craft Chocolate
Oliver and Jay Holecek of Primo Botanica Craft Chocolate are cousins living on opposite coasts of the US.
Jay became a certified natural chef at Bauman College in Berkeley, California. As a chef consultant, Jay has an immense amount of knowledge in therapeutic cooking. After purchasing a riverfront property in Costa Rica, Jay began developing strong relationships with Costa Rican cocoa farmers.
Oliver grew up in a small rural town, 30 minutes south of Troy, New York, called Dormansville. He and his family lived the homesteading life, raising chickens and selling eggs alongside an abundant vegetable garden. In 1996, his mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness that gave her about a year to live. As a result of the diagnosis, his mother had an impetus to show her family the world, so she eventually sold their 5-acre property, moved to a small house in the nearby city of Albany and travelled to over 10 countries in under 10 years. Oliver’s experience living around chronic illness inspired him to make significant lifestyle choices at the age of 17 which included spending lots of time in nature, running, foraging and cooking with therapeutic foods.
When he was 20, Oliver got his degree from Plattsburgh University in anthropology to study the traditional diets and methods of agriculture in indigenous Central and South American cultures. He believed that his mother’s cancer had a lot to do with the industrial farms she grew up next to. Many nights of writing papers and studying were fueled by the stimulation of dark chocolate (the bitter, the better). Through WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms), Oliver travelled to Belize and Nicaragua to study regenerative cacao farming. Working directly with the tree and the people who grew cacao for Green & Black’s, Oliver developed a deep connection to chocolate, interested in its connection to environmentalism, immigration and sustainable economic development.
With a passion for cuisine and manufacturing after working in the food industry, Oliver began trying chocolate from different makers and visiting the factories of companies like Scharffenberger, Taza and Fruition. Wanting to start his own chocolate company, but feeling uncomfortable with the sources of cacao he found available, Oliver wanted to go straight to the origin. Oliver met Jay in Costa Rica to secure their first supply which he started roasting the day he got home. After many sloppy chocolate-making sessions in his housemates’ upstairs kitchen, he felt the pressure to get a space designated for chocolate. First making chocolate beneath a winery in Castleton, Primo was able to expand and began producing chocolate consistently. Needing a space that was a bit closer to Troy, Oliver and his housemates began renovating the kitchen in a historic church near their house. Once it was ready, they made the move and Primo’s roots were officially back in Troy.
Primo is the first bean-to-bar chocolate maker in New York’s Capital Region. Primo’s mission is to “transform small scale food-based businesses globally through direct-trade business relationships between producer/farmer-owned enterprises.” In effect, Primo aims to create the highest quality, most delicious chocolate possible using the best ingredients. Expanding upon its mission to transform communities, Primo collaborates closely with farmer-owned cooperatives in Ecuador and Nicaragua.Oliver chose the name ‘Primo’ which in Spanish means both "the best" and "cousin." As a bean to bar chocolate company they source all of their beans from regenerative farming cooperatives in distinctly different bioregions. They are the first chocolate maker to include sustainably harvested medicinal ingredients, diminishing the negative effects of industrial agriculture both nutritionally and ecologically.