About Rob Lenfestey
Biography of Founder, CEO Rob Lenfestey
Rob Lenfestey was told he was allergic to Chocolate growing up.
This means he did not eat it until a fateful mountaineering expedition in the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming at age 20.
“We had been in the backcountry for a month climbing peaks and exploring the wilderness”, says Lenfestey.
“We were on our last day, at our last camp site in view of the road we would be picked up on in the morning. We had completely run out of food. We scrounged our packs and found one packet of brownie mix that had been crammed in a corner and forgotten.”
The team made the brownies and split them into small portions for each person.
“I looked at the road and looked at the brownies”, said Lenfestey, “they smelled so good. I decided to take a half portion and give it a try. I figured I wasn’t going to die at least”
The brownies came around and Lenfestey took his half portion. Afterwards he regretted not taking a full.
“The taste was incredible, better than the smell. I had no idea what I had been missing.”
Only a few months later Lenfestey found himself making raw superfood chocolate for a San Francisco children’s charity.
“I was fortunate that my honeymoon with low quality chocolate was short-lived. Within a few months I was sitting in a fully stocked raw kitchen making 5lb batches of superfood chocolate for a charity. I made batches for weeks and began the journey of honing my skill as a chocolatier.”
The real breakthrough would come only mere months later, still only a year into his journey with chocolate, in Los Angeles.
“I was attending a workshop on Chinese herbal elixirs and raw chocolate making in LA”, says Lenfestey, “a few hours before the event began the woman in charge came in frantic. She said that the chocolatier who was supposed to teach the class had canceled and she did not know what to do.”
Lenfestey volunteered and taught the class. It was a hit. He was asked to teach a whole series of these classes and obliged.
“She had this ‘Southern California’ way of presenting my as an expert chocolatier, which felt disingenuous since I had only been eating chocolate, let alone making it less than a year,” says Lenfestey. “She would present me as an expert chocolatier with a litany of credentials I didn’t have. The more I balked the more extravagant the experience she attributed to me. “She wouldn’t stop so I figured I better quickly learn everything I could about chocolate.”
And learn he did. Rob studied cacao extensively and went on to live on cacao plantations in Costa Rica and the Hawaiian Agriculture Research Center in Kauai, working with different varieties of cacao, tropical superfoods and learning how to grow them abundantly and sustainably.
After over a decade of working with cacao, superfoods, the art of chocolate making and working with innovative herbal extraction technology, Mandala Chocolate was born.
“I never woke up and decided to start a chocolate company,” Lenfestey muses, “It just happened. Like everything in my relationship with cacao, it feels more like a calling than a choice. I am serving this incredible plant by sharing its pure nutrition and medicine with the world through education and raw superfood chocolates.”
Lenfestey has worked closely with indigenous growers to ensure that his cacao is coming from communities that work close to the land and use ancient methods to grow the best organic cacao. He also works actively to save the ecosystems that support the life of these communities and thousands of species.
“With the Cloud Forest Conservation Initiative, our conservation non-profit, we are working to save one of the largest untouched cloud forests in the world and help create sustainable economic opportunities for the local Q’iche Maya”
So far CFCI, under direction of Rob and a small team of passionate ecologists, have raised over $1,200,000 and protected over 10 square miles of primal forest forever.
10% of all proceeds from Mandala Naturals and Mandala Chocolate currently go to conservation and sustainability projects around the world.