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26 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs: Katrina Markoff

for setting a completely unreasonable goal for her business

From: Inc. Magazine, April 2005 | By: null


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Katrina Markoff Vosges Haut

for setting a completely unreasonable goal for her business

"Bringing peace to the world through chocolate is a pretty big mantra," admits Katrina Markoff, the founder of Vosges Haut-Chocolat, a Chicago business with $4.5 million in annual sales. "But it can do that by introducing different cultures and points of view." To that end, the typical box of Vosges truffles mixes exotic flavors from all over the globe, including Japanese wasabi, Italian taleggio cheese, and Mexican ancho chili. In Markoff's mind, you can't help but think about tribal lands in northeast India as you savor her curry-coconut Naga truffle.

Markoff, 32, developed her "We are the World" philosophy of chocolate while studying classical cooking at the Cordon Bleu in France and later, when she apprenticed under Spanish chef Ferran Adria, who is celebrated for taking culinary risks. She then spent nine months traveling the world and tasting all manner of foods, from worms to kaffir limes to white poppy seed. Returning to the U.S., she took a job at her uncle's home-furnishings catalog business to learn about vendor-buyer relationships, photo styling, and copywriting. She opened her first retail shop in Chicago in 1998 with a loan backed by the Small Business Administration, and started selling chocolates at specialty food stores and Neiman Marcus a year later.

Today there are Vosges stores in New York City and Las Vegas (Japan is next) and 30 employees on the payroll. And Markoff still maintains that her chocolate can save the world. She credits her mother, who runs a hazardous waste removal company and who taught her to add receipts at an early age, for encouraging her to set audacious goals: "She always said, 'You just have to do it. There are no limitations.'"

Stephanie Clifford

26 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs

  1. Martha Stewart, Martha Stewart Omnimedia
    because she took one for the team
  2. Richard Branson, Virgin Group
    because he's game for anything. In fact, everything.
  3. Michael Dell, Dell Computer
    for being brilliantly straightforward
  4. Jim Sinegal, Costco
    because who knew a big-box chain could have a generous soul?
  5. Diane von Furstenberg, Diane von Furstenberg Studio
    for staging an elegant comeback
  6. Julie Azuma, Different Roads to Learning
    for offering hope and help to the parents of autistic children
  7. Fritz Maytag, Anchor Brewing
    for setting limits
  8. Ray Kurzweil, Kurzweil Technologies and other companies
    because he is Edison's rightful heir
  9. Craig Newmark, Craigslist
    for putting the free in free markets
  10. Jack Mitchell, Mitchells/Richards
    because his family business makes an art of customer service
  11. Frank Robinson, Robinson Helicopter
    for whipping an entire industry into shape
  12. Mark Melton, Melton Franchise Systems
    for giving immigrants their shot at the American Dream
  13. Michelle Cardinal & Tim O'Leary, Cmedia and Respond2
    for rewriting the rules for husband-and-wife teams
  14. Mike Lazaridis, Research in Motion
    because someone had to stand up for all those frustrated engineers
  15. Trip Hawkins, Electronics Arts and Digital Chocolate
    for still scrapping
  16. Warren Brown, Cake Love and Love Cafe
    because only in America will someone quit a secure job as a lawyer to start a bakery
  17. Muriel Siebert, Muriel Siebert & Co.
    for being a notable first with a worthy second act
  18. Chuck Porter, Crispin, Porter + Bogusky
    for verging on reckless
  19. Katrina Markoff, Vosges Haut
    for setting a completely unreasonable goal for her business
  20. Barry Steinberg & Craig Sumerel, Direct Tire and Auto Service
    for showing the power of the peer group
  21. Victoria Parham, Virtual Support Services
    for serving as a mentor to military spouses
  22. Tom LaTour, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants
    for staying at fleabag hotels so that we don't have to
  23. Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams, Mitchell Gold
    for creating a true comfort zone
  24. Izzy & Coco Tihanyi, Surf Diva
    for kicking sand in the face of conventional wisdom
  25. Tony Lee, Ring Masters
    for saving 16 jobs, including his own
  26. Rueben Martinez, Libreria Martinez Books and Art Galleries
    for simultaneously building a business and nurturing Latino culture

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