Jonathan Grahm was just twenty-one years old when he took over Compartés Chocolatier, his family’s chocolate business in Los Angeles, California. An endless source of creativity, Grahm has pulled from his passions for art, fashion, design, and writing to create a brand that’s taken over Hollywood and beyond.
How hands-on are you now with the business compared to when you first took over?
Though Compartés has grown so much, our team hasn’t grown. It’s still so mom-and-pop in terms of business management. I’m still doing everything—deliveries to multiple stores, taking calls from the clients, recipe development, and package design. But we’ve been expanding and adding to the team.
What is the challenge in hiring new people?
The brand is so specific and there’s really no one doing what we are doing, so it’s hard to figure out where to find someone. The voice of Compartés is also so intertwined with my own identity that I want to be thoughtful about who I bring into the mix so we maintain a consistent voice.
How has Compartés changed as you’ve gotten older?
Compartés is an evolving brand. It was a certain way when I was twenty-one, and now that I’m thirty-five, it’s different. Compartés grows with me, whether it’s the brand identity, the aesthetics, the style, or the types of chocolates. As I’ve grown up, the brand has grown up, too. Even if you look at the designs in the beginning, they were a bit more computer generated. Now I have an art studio in my home, and I’m hand-painting some elements on canvas and bringing that into the designs.
What do you find challenging about the business?
I don’t see things as challenges; I see them as opportunities for improvement and growth. I didn’t know anything about web design or graphic design. I taught myself both. I didn’t have any culinary training. That was the first challenge—to develop recipes and a flavor profile without being a classically trained chef. Now I’m teaching myself sales and marketing and how to use social media.
What is your latest chocolate line?
Eating healthy is more appealing as I get older, so we launched a line of healthy chocolate bars. The eight chocolate bars are vegan, soy-free, refined-sugar-free, fair trade, organic, Paleo, and keto.
We’re known for nostalgic gourmet chocolate bar flavors like Donuts and Coffee and Cereal Bowl, and I love those bars, but you can’t eat them every day. As humans, sometimes we want something really indulgent and sometimes we want to feel really good about what we’re putting into our body.
What do you like about being your own boss?
Compartés is such a fusion of all my passions, and I’m constantly tapping into the creative side of myself. I still have a book by my bedside where I record ideas for chocolate bars. If I wake up one day with an idea, like the Avocado Toast chocolate bar, I don’t have to run it by anyone for approval. It went viral, and we sold five thousand bars in less than a month. It was quirky and successful.
You have such artful wrappers. Will you talk about a couple special ones that you’ve created?
One of my favorites is the Campfire S’mores dark chocolate bar. The wrapper is a collage of twenty-five different photos on the front that all look like one scene of the California forest. I love this one because all the dogs I’ve ever owned are pictured on the other side of the bar. I also really like California Love. It’s our best-selling bar, and it features pink and green palm trees. It’s my homage to the California sunset and the famous wallpaper of the Beverly Hills Hotel. That bar has also become such an iconic image that people use it in pop culture references. That kind of reception compels me to keep being creative and to not worry about what other people are doing. For our Strawberry Shortcake bar, I sat down with my team, handed out paper and colored pencils, and said, “Let’s each draw a strawberry.” We sat around the table for an hour, each drawing our own version, and I turned that into a pattern.
Who writes the poetry on the wrappers?
I still write all the poems on the back. Sometimes I envision myself as a rapper, and I quickly write four lines that rhyme. Sometimes they’re more esoteric. Sometimes they’re more old-fashioned, and sometimes they read like a cheesy greeting card. I see each bar having a beginning, a middle, and an end—like individual works of art. There is so much thought in every chocolate bar. I want the experience of the bar to be a multidimensional package of design, flavor, texture, taste, ingredients, and words.
A lot of artists feel like they’re on a perpetual quest to create art they think is good enough. Have you reconciled this?
I reanalyze constantly. Every time I print the California Love bar, I move a palm tree the tiniest bit. Or I change a shade of green just a little.
Do you reanalyze your life, too?
I’m always trying to evolve. I wake up every day and think, “How can I be a better person? How can I be a better boss, friend, and creative?”
Will Los Angeles always be home for you?
LA has always been my home base, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I just bought my dream house with forty-two palm trees in the front yard. It’s very architectural and sculptural—it’s my sanctuary and happy place. My goal is to have a more international presence with the brand, but this is where I’ll always come back to.
Tell us about the new factory and headquarters:
The idea behind the factory on La Brea, which is known as the Compartés Global HQ and Chocolate Factory,
is my take on Willy Wonka. It’s filled with marble and features a twelve-foot brass door that will lead you into the chocolate factory. There’s also a glass wall where you can see the whole process of chocolate making. We do tours and private events. It’s huge and beautiful, and there are even chocolate faucets. I loved doing the design for this project.
Are you proud of what you’ve built?
I was able to take a mom-and-pop chocolate company and channel all my passions into the brand to recreate and modernize Compartés. It’s such a melting pot of people, media, cuisine, art, design, and Hollywood. I’m grateful to have customers who trust me to give them a unique experience. Our chocolate is sold in over one thousand shops all over the globe. And we’ve done it all without a sales staff or distributors or publicists.
What are you doing when you’re not working?
It’s not easy for me to stop working. Even on Saturdays and Sundays, I sometimes drive to the headquarters just to go in for an hour. If Louis Vuitton is calling, I want to be there to answer the phone. But I try to relax my brain at home—I’ll swim in the pool and cook. I have a greenhouse where I grow flowers, and I have my art studio. I also love to travel. Whenever I can, I’m in Hawaii. I love nature and the ocean. I was in Maui a year ago, and it’s the closest I’ve been to whales in my life. It was so awe-inspiring, and it reminded me how small I am. I care about being happy, spending time with my dogs, and living low-key.
What do you consider to be the best metric of success?
I get to wake up every day and do what I love. That’s success, and that’s happiness—being able to afford a life doing what you love.
For more info, visit compartes.com