A decade ago, Audrey Wong had an epiphany sat beachside in the balmy afterglow of a Maui sunset. Her Hawaiian hiatus, away from a successful career in TV costume design, became the catalyst into a universe of raw food and saintly chocolate dessert. Her holiday entailed long days studying botany, (still an interest hence the name Living Lotus), but culminated in mass-collaborative cooking sessions where her love of food, and in particular raw food, was sown. As soon as the trip concluded she enrolled in a course at a raw food culinary & nutrition school, a path was unfolding in real-time, for even at this point her chocolate and dessert obsession was not yet coaxed from its cacao shell.
Living Lotus Chocolate, owned and operated by Audrey, turned 10 earlier this year and her triumph upon triumph has been hard fought. A devotion to raw organic ingredients, alongside a mission to keep all recipes vegan, free of both refined sugar and gluten, but always remaining lavishly delicious, has taken the confection from market booths to being stocked in over 15 lower mainland stores. Specializing in bean to bar chocolate that’s made straight from the cacao bean, there’s a range of tantalizing combinations to try, all ethically sourced from Peru or Ecuador – from bars, to spreads to nut creations.
Living Lotus is still to be found at farmers’ markets and events across Metro Vancouver and the City of Vancouver, notably at Steveston Farmers’ Market, Hastings Park and Mount Pleasant among others. Audrey’s first market, she remembers fondly, was a West Vancouver outing in 2013, where she admits to not truly understanding her product or target customer. It was these formative market experiences that forged what Living Lotus is today, giving her crucial opportunities to initially test a target market, learn what worked, and then gather data; all factors that were immensely valuable.
Today, too, the markets remain an unrivaled platform for aiding decisions about her product, allowing face-to-face exchanges and feedback with customers. But also a chance to happily educate about the ethics surrounding cacao sourcing, as well as the health benefits of going raw. Often the conversation will naturally lead to the sourcing of the cacao beans and the industry’s all too common unethical labor laws that enable oppressive slave conditions.
Living Lotus proudly stands as an affront to this cruelty. It’s best explained in a 3 part blog posted on Audrey’s website. Raw cacao and a laser focus on production means the recipes are rich and delicious. This years’ special excitements were perhaps the Sakura Cherry Green Tea bean-to-bar, but also the intriguing Smoked Kelp bar. The latter, she explained, is of course smoky but has a surprisingly bright finishing note, so achieves a delicate balance.
Her bubbly, approachable demeanor was briefly placed aside when recalling some hardships encountered, not least the pandemic forcing a pause and restructuring for her bean-to-bar production and launch, a challenge which she overcame with a characteristic tenacity. Covid-19 also meant scaling back her then team of 5, a decision not easily reached. But in the years that followed she still calls upon the same loyal people on a voluntary basis, a grateful intonation now returned to her voice, as the positive work culture Audrey fosters is clearly a draw!
The future looks bright for Living Lotus with a year on year increase in stockists across Metro Vancouver, alongside an ongoing presence at key farmers’ markets. There’s also promise to appear at new markets in 2024, such as Trout Lake, a distinct possibility.