Phillip Ashley Rix is a flavor visionary. The Memphis-based chef launched Philip Ashley Chocolates in 2012 and since then, the company has become known for its inventive flavor combinations. Last year, the boutique chocolate company even landed itself on the list of Oprah's favorite things. Plus, the brand recently came out with "Taste of America," a limited-edition box of chocolates in which each piece represents one of the 50 states. Standout flavors include North Carolina's strawberry hot sauce, Arkansas' watermelon molasses, and peppermint lemonade for Rhode Island.
Growing up in Memphis, the mastermind behind the designer chocolates was influenced by his city's rich culture and diverse culinary scene.
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"There are so many different options and perspectives in the culinary world in Memphis. Although we're known for our barbecue and soul food, we have a lot of great Italian and Korean restaurants," Rix tells Hunker. "Growing up cooking with my grandmother and the rest of my family, we always tried different things and went different places. Being in Memphis fuels my imagination and I use food, and ultimately chocolate, as my creative outlet."
Rix has a penchant for unusual flavor combinations like peanut butter and bourbon or soy sauce and caramel. He spends a lot of time studying ingredients — the regions they come from, the people who use them, and the history of regional dishes — which helps him create unexpected flavor pairings.
"Ingredients like blue cheese and white chocolate don't really make sense when you think about it, but then you taste it and find out it works really well," he explains. "People don't realize or think about how goat cheese, fig jam, or port wine would belong in chocolate, but you've probably had those things on some sort of charcuterie board."
The chocolatier's inspiration for new flavors comes from his time spent reading, listening to music, and connecting with people around him. That cocktail he had over the weekend? It just might become his next bestselling chocolate.
"My inspiration is coming from a lot of different sources," Rix says. "I try to be a universal antenna of food and drink. I also spend time in my head daydreaming, and I'm currently working on a mixtape collection. I want to make a series of chocolates that are inspired by music like different genres and times and artists. For instance, what would a Prince song taste like?"
Rix's career also includes a stint on Food Network's Chopped Sweets. He was one of the four finalists on the show, and he says that the experience taught him the importance of working under pressure.
"It was intense," Rix says, laughing. "But I really had a good time, and I love competition. It was a little nerve-wracking because you just never know what the outcome or response of the judges will be. And you realize that the clock is real — they're not pausing in the middle of things ... It was also overwhelming, sensory-wise, because there were so many ingredients and so many different options and tools. I think the biggest thing I got from it is that I can really create anything. The experience was confirmation of that — my ability to create, be agile, be nimble, and think on my feet in a high-stress environment."
As a Black business owner, Rix has faced obstacles, particularly when it came to raising capital and getting people to buy into his product in the early stages. His advice for small business owners is to have a clear vision of their business and not wait until everything is perfect to get started.
"There's never a perfect time other than now. A lot of times, people take too long to launch, so my main advice is just get started," he explains. "You're going to make mistakes and that's okay. Learn from your mistakes, put the right people around you, and make sure that you're really paying attention to the business side."
Rix also says that his past experience working in marketing and sales gave him an advantage, helping him to see the value of investing in marketing his business early on. "Most importantly," he advises, "spend the money on marketing. You're betting on yourself and you're going to have to spend money, particularly on marketing. When you own a business, the production side, the creative side, and the strategic and tactical pieces all have to come together to tell a story."
Ultimately, any small business has to have a solid, well-thought-out product or service, which Rix says is the most significant part of starting up a new venture.
"At the end of the day, the product or service has to be great. And then it's about finding the right people who can support it, sell it, and scale it. Before going to market, make sure that the product is excellent and its the best version at that time," Rix concludes. "With Phillip Ashley Chocolates, we're creating chocolates and a catalog of flavors that no one else is doing. That's been my whole goal: to create things that no one else would have thought of, that no one else would have dared to put into chocolate."