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Designing a Brand; Island Sharks Chocolate

Updated: Feb 19


This was a challenge for us all on the team and I, personally, learned a lot (Perhaps this author took on the most challenge). Believe it or not I got into chocolate making through brand and graphic design. Island Sharks Chocolate was actually just one of my graphic design clients! They couldn’t pay me. So, they gave me the business.  What?! Now my challenge I'm learning from is making the actual Island Sharks Chocolate, working without our original and now newly retired members. What?! They retired? You may ask. Yes, well 1 sort of did and the other was fired. More below... Running the business, retrospectively, entirely by myself while undergoing 2 titanium spinal implants was pretty much breeched our contract. Here is how it all happened. And very newly added, here is what’s happening now! Also, future clients of graphic design and brand design work out there, are required to pay this time. No more art in exchange for a business!

The Introduction

Walking through the Hilo Farmer's Market, circa 2012, I was enthralled. Sometimes, it was inspiring -- I had never seen so much exotic, rare and unrecognizable fruits (including cacao) and vegetables in my life (Its till inspiring). I started going multiple times a week and have had healthy Big Island inspired diet ever since. I went with an anti-inflammatory local plant-based diet. And that plant was chocolate. There were a few days, where because of chocolate’s appetite crushing properties, Hawaiian Chocolate was all I ate. I had lived in Hawaii for about 5 months at this point. The photos are from the market back in 2017.

The vending stalls were filled with ambiguously diverse faces, smiles and cultures. I could not have felt more at home, but I was wrong, eventually I did. I would find a food that I have my own unique ancestral ties to.

Running into another mainlander was perhaps even better than the allure of complete strangers because it was easier to make a connection, but NOT always. Then again, maybe meeting mainlanders was meant to happen. This seemly oblivious, cornball and distracted vendor, that was selling his family’s Hawaiian chocolate. This is more common now that it was over a decade ago. We talked and he seemed to only be casually interested in selling chocolate. The reason being, he is a golf caddy, the rest of the year. I found this out while tasting Hawai'i Chocolate samples he and his Dad had made. Sometimes it was his Dad there, Tom Sharkey, owner of the now defunct Hilo Sharks Coffee Brand. I had never met my father and was instantly struck as  a witness of my dream, a legacy family Hawaii farm. Sometimes it would be one or another of the two but I would always generously receive the samples of the best tasting chocolate I had ever had.

Supporting a local family business got me more tuned-in to the Big Island as I learned as supporting neighbors will always do. The father and son had had a shop, the infamous "Hilo Sharks Coffee", and later another, "Hilo Sharks Coffee" and eventually a short lived, "Honomu Sharks Coffee". "Sharks", was a nickname for the duo that stuck and was used to market their coffee and cacao products. Their last name is "Sharkey". It was fitting and given way before my time on the island or my introductions to them. The Hilo and Honomu shop names came from the locations on the island. They are now all closed.

This author even ran the short-lived Hilo Sharks Chocolate Shop back in 2015 before the Cook family of landlord’s decided to double our rent over night. 

One of the Hilo Sharks Coffee locations
Hilo Sharks Coffee circa 2017

I had returned to this market with an eagle eye for new graphic design clients and noticed how many decades late all the branding was at the market. It was so sad (and still) . There were so many vendors trying so hard to profit but their products and labels and were so 80’s.

The Sharkey's were no exception. So I shared what I do with them. With strong imaging of vicious sharks, it seemed like I could be of service rebranding them. I liked the idea of working with a father and son too, so I began to discuss toning down the imagery of their branding...Here is a friendlier, cooler shark I finally came up with years later. At this point, recognized as someone to avoid, Tom Sharkey, decided that, I, , “not in his canoe”. I don’t know what this is meant, but in my head I was working with his son and Tom’s anti-social, borderline sociopathic behavior was well known around the Island. The family, I hadn’t noticed, didn't have the best name…or the best reputation. Busy, making craft chocolate, it took me years to realize this…

Island Sharks Chocolate Logo
The Earlier Island Sharks Chocolate Logo

I got to know Erin Sharkey well. I learned about their family business, cacao farming and chocolate making. Conceiving of new designs for their brand / labels would have to have come from that inspiration. There is nothing like cacao and chocolate in Hawai'i, its unique in a lot of ways. The biggest problem in the whole industry, I got to learn, was branding. The chocolate had some room to improve too…But I didn’t understand, it was the resistant clients I was working with who was holding the industry back. Tom was the “Johnny Appleseed of Cacao” in Hawaii after all. Apparently, capitalism, isn’t everything in Hawaii. Which was 1 thing I hoped to find when I decided to moved here.

The Conception

It turned out, the son Erin, had been asked by his Hawai'i cacao farmer Dad, to start his own brand. With no startup skills Erin turned to me for support. I began Hilo Sharks Chocolate Instagram account for him to begin on. Years later, it has been changed to The Chocolate Wave, Hilo Chocolate Company and finally Island Sharks Chocolate. Just how did that happen? Erin kept his hands off of it. Its the single reason Island Sharks had any growth at all. Occasionally he made chocolate for my earlier brand “The Chocolate Wave”, that this site was based off of. But, then, when handing out samples, a friend of mine found an entire quarter in his chocolate bar. I lost it. My friend, thought it was a great marketing idea but that I should tell people first. He didn’t get that it was a mistake though I tried explaining. Oh and don’t worry. Erin Sharkey is no longer part of this business. 

The Chocolate Wave and Leilani Chocolates, 2 Other Brands I Designed.
The Chocolate Wave and Leilani Chocolates, 2 Other Brands I Designed.

Erin brought his father-in-law to the island. He actually got him to move here. Part of the deal of Bob Schneider moving here, was that they were to run this soon-to-be named chocolate company together, with me. Sounded fine to me. I didn’t comprehend how judgmental I was but Bob was a multi-millionaire so I figured, what could go wrong? Who wouldn’t want a multi-millionaire as a business partner. Hello?It wasn't until about 5 years after meeting Erin that I was officially brought in to help create the son's brand. His father had waited too and at this point I had waited to do work on his brand for several years. We had simply stayed friends (with minor collaborations) for over half a decade. Finally the day came when I was hired by him and his step-dad Bob to formally design the brand. It took his family years.However, they did not have a name yet.

Here are some examples of my early work on the brand before the name was solidified.

Our Name

Our name Island Sharks, came from the minds of Erin and Bob and I. We tossed out a few choices (like "Sharkey's") and chose to keep the "Sharks" in our name because Erin is a Sharkey, just like his Dad -- it was to be mainly Erin's brand and we wanted to grow Tom Sharkey's (Erin's Dad's) Hawai'i Cacao Legacy.  Also, their name is NOT Sharks, so there was no danger of them taking ownership of an unowned public concept. I invited them to join the business with me too as my passion had left graphic design permanently and was now skewed towards chocolate making -- I had decided to start my own chocolate company one day anyway.

We would eventually merge our private chocolate making into 1 public company.We formed a legitimate partnership as Island Sharks Chocolate and so I could finally begin on the logos, boxes, website and alike. I also could now make my own chocolate in partnership with the "Sharks". The client's project had finally come to fruition, about 5 years later, but was transformed from just a job into a way for this author to support Hawai'i Cacao's legacy and himself! I had just not been paid for any of my eventual graphic design work as, I was a business partner now. What a terrible client. Part of me just wanted a check and to walk. But  being alone in the most remote place in the world does NOT work for my constitution.

Here are some designs I developed that worked for Island Sharks (my new company? At least I like the branding) Chocolate.

Developing the Roles I learned painfully quick that my earlier plan to "run my own chocolate company", was extremely flawed. I had cut my self out to fill all the roles from banking to wrapping and making. I had dreamt that my place was everywhere all at once.  OOOPS! That is somewhat true to this day though. “Its now much less painless due to the business partners and the business is actually manageable. It actually would not be possible without them,” is what I once wrote… The business was only possible because I’ve gotten to know all of you over social media over half a decade. Bob and Erin Brought in less than $1000 in their lifetime at Island Sharks Chocolate. You know we did more business than that right? I was busy and I was borderline disabled. Eventually this author became, fully disabled. Bob and Erin, as older male role models to me, were (and are no longer) amazing. They are now being taken to court for theft. They showed me cooperation, patience and love that I have never seen in business relationships before. Sure they were step-father and son, but I started to feel like family. It started to feel like a home of sorts. If I lived in Trump loving boomer’s dream. A dream that they had, more insightful than mine, that was to work with family. This much was true. Never having the opportunity to do so earlier in life, working with family-like members began to nourish me in the smallest amount. It was good insight and has helped me understand myself and my own characteristics better. However, thats what any good father would do and you may or may not know, I never met mine. So this was the closest thing I had ever come to positive older male attention in my life and oh my god, the step-father and son soon turned out to be a racist boot licker. He even got scammed for thousands by Trump and tells me how much he loves Jesse Waters. Sick. Fox News is entertainment. They admitted it in a court of law, and there was Bob telling me, a mixed race man, that George Floyd should have just listened to the police.  Erin got scammed for $10k...this was when. I realized Erin may be incompetent. A year in, Bob revealed he already knew this about Erin. I was last to know...The beginning of the end (for Bob) was during the BLM protests, he referred to as riots and Erin would never mention them. Disgusting. Bob was 72 when we started and honestly I hope that I never again have to count his age. Bob had become the worst role model ever because a woman he projected helplessness on a woman who was too badass and wouldn't get used to relying on a privileged Westerner senior. He took pity on her and simultaneously said something about how one race of women is better than the other. GAG! And that her and her sweet son make a great $27.000 tax write off... Erin seemed to have the same bent towards women, because he said it was great that they have, "small fingers", and can, "wrap chocolate boxes good and fast." Jaw, dropped. I saw Bob's level of influence; they were both married to non-Western women and it was deliberate, and Bob's millions they would share too, not just his taste in women. Where was Erin's loyalty if he was abandoning the biz every 6 to 9 months of the year? It was with Bob's privilege. And where was Erin's inheritance! Same place. I know you were super,worried about that! Bob promised him like 4 or 14 million dollars in Bob's will, for Erin. So Erin, doesn't give a fuck about anything in life any more is a borderline "full-blown", drunk and complete over-privelged nepo-baby...I don't like partnering with inept pleebs with this little independece, interdependence and self-identity... The beginning of the end was not the pandemic as one would think. It was not when Erin disappeared, breeched 100% of all his duties, 100% of the time. No, it was their hate-filled demagoguery and the fact Erin was always drinking too much to tell Bob he was drinking at all... I won’t allow that around my chocolate, or myself. Or around your chocolate. Erin was no longer a role model as he was (and is) a classless 50 year old golf caddy who was afraid of Nibiru exculpating our planet of its life support systems. Its a second planet hiding behind the moon. Also, according to Erin, we never landed on the moon.  You know what is waiting for you on the other side of those conspiracies? White supremacy. White supremacists recruit conspiratorial right-wingers looking for something to be scared of.  Were Bob and Erin racist, questionable, but no, just complete ignorant cowards. Almost the same thing. I was a bit racist though, I thought they would be kind and compassionate and emotionally mature. I thought from a life of privilege you’d be wise and generous, loving and caring. I was projecting on them. I was immature, judgmental and superficial, I should have gotten to know them better first. I was being racist by not seeing my older successful black and mixed role models that are out there for me. I love you! I was not seeing myself. I was not witnessing getting totally ripped off by the entitled, untalented and over privelged Californians. No, that is not the worst thing you can be, thats a Trump supporter, which they were also.... They are terrible people to go into business with and you should avoid them like CoVid! Which Erin contracted California and brought to the Big Island regularly on his visits. No, he was too good to wear a mask or get vaccinated. Sometimes, equality (for the most privielged,) can feel like oppression. Its not.

Embarrassingly, I took the Pic, Navigated, Made Sure He Didn't Fall in or Fight the locals

I was never so happy (to be wrong), running a chocolate company with a family and as an "ohana", was going to be unbeatably fulfilling. I was wrong. It was something people do NOT do for many many reasons. I thought I was never meant to be a chef or cook. My mistake, now do I cook and write recipes for a living! Being wrong is great and I am fulfilled. Actually, just working with my loving life partner. This is the best, without the inbred. I didn't understand my self and my role in my own life until I started making chocolate with others. And Life immediately said, "You need to do this on your own." I began to feel personal growth in ways only foretold to me by my imagination. And by no one else. Ever, sadly. Maybe Captain Picard was my one true role model. At one point, way in the past, I even thought I'd never live in Hawai'i. It's been good to be wrong sometimes, remember that. Nothing is all bad. I am meant to be in Hawaii and cook chocolate recipes. Huh, never saw that coming. Kind of the dream though. Of a millennial, absolutely. I was never so happy as now running a chocolate company with my actual OWN family. This. Is. Fulfillment.

I went forward happily and humbly with a bent on learning more about myself and chocolate making. Erin moved to California for 6 months (every year for the past 10 years and he had agreed to help while in California but he never did because his millions were already made) and Bob and I began making all the Hawai'i craft chocolate. Erin's Dad warned me not to go into business with Erin because Erin is an entitled do-nothing alcoholic who abandanoned his own family business needs year after year. I was warned. Keeping w/ my humility I was not shocked when Erin never showed up, year after year after year. And even in California, he consitently failed to do any work for Island Sharks. Though he bullshitted, and said he would. He breeched his duties up to100% of the time and I had to work more to cover for his roles and duties. And I had a broken neck and a broken back. Erin did NOT care. He made zero, none, not any additional effort at all to help while I proceed with 2 surgeries in 1 year. He neglect me, his friend, and the needs of his business. He did this every single year I worked with him. And he watched over the years as my back and neck got worse and worse and worse, while I continued to perform work he was responsible for.  He had no respect for me despite, creating all the branding, recipes and doing all the marketing. He never came to help once. He completely abandoned me and let me work until I could not work any longer and needed surgery. His dad Tom said, “You don’t want to go into business with my son”. And that Erin had neglected and abandoned Tom because he is an alcoholic. And that the same would happen to me. It did. Tom is retired now. I am not going anywhere despite being facilitated into disability by a lack of support from those closest to me. Yes, it was a repeat of my childhood. Of course. How do u think this happened?

Erin Lugging Hawaii Cacao Beans ONCE on His Last Visit.
Not The Face of Someone Who Wants to Help.

I went forward happily and humbly with a bent on learning more about myself and chocolate making. Erin moved to California and Bob and I began making all the Hawai'i craft chocolate. Here are our most recent creations (Dated 2021)!

Have you seen the limited holiday and seasonal bars? I solely have created over 30 chocolate bars in total though only some are available regularly. Only several have had the chance to be put online. Sometimes, I cannot play the role of photographer and social media manager while creating special small-batches of chocolate from scratch. It can still be a lot especially with a broken back and neck, so eventually I did have to get several pounds of titanium installed in my spine. So, our limited and seasonal bars will always return, but won't be able to be in production year round. If had the help I agreed to I wouldn’t have had to work so hard and could have avoided surgery for a few more years or maybe permanently. Erin does NOT care and I will see him court with the receipts. Anyone know a good lawyer in Hawaii?

Our Christmas bar with vegan peppermint candycanes and vegan marshmallow in dark chocoalte.
Vegan Peppermint CandyCane Marshmallow Hawaii Dark Chocolate Available Every Holiday Season

Ultimately, I trained Bob to become a craft chocolate makers and as Erin, well, he was in breech. He taught us nothing and has never done anything for Island Sharks Chocolate. He put us together? Bob robbed me. Its a terrible combo and Erin is guilty of theft, multiple DUIs and even methamphetamine usage. I'm not willing to casually discuss that at work. So that, was really the end for me. No, I won't indulge an addict, even if they are, a business partner. It's called, (say it with me) BOUNDARIES.

The Aftermath

2 chocolate bars; Island Sharks and Hilo Sharks
Hilo Sharks Chocolate and Island Sharks Chocolate

There are some things I would change now, looking back, on the packaging designs. And with the partnerships…I would currently like to change somethings about the website and our social media is a constant work in progress. I would have liked to get even more input on our flavors and aromas from our audience. Perhaps working alone the whole time would have been more productive? I don't think I was ready at the time, but please let me know if you know any kind trusting folks looking to co-own and run a cocoa farm!

I thought I could design the new Sharks labels easily. Most likely it was about 6 months of work, overtime the past 4 years. Island Sharks Chocolate was not a very lucrative graphic design client...although I did get a great chocolate company…The partners I had are now hopefully headed to a life of corrections. Bob was so corruptedly white-privelege, he told me voted twice. And went into a lot of detail on it…He really loved sucking that grifting and fascists Trump boot.

I've gotten to learn about myself, most valuable of all. And I still have lots to learn but I think that I am done with new graphic and brand design clients. I know the design world is very collaborative, but working hands on in the kitchen with chocolate is where I thrive -- where I can grow. And best of all, now I can focus more on my audience! Thats you, and your needs!

I couldn't help but get swept away from my stuck, Vitamin-D deficient digital arts world. The transportive quality of chocolate can take me anywhere, away from my graphic design desk. I never feel stagnant in this field. Even when my partners became ex-partners last year. I can just melt a piece of my own hand-made, rich, luxurious, creamy and dark chocolate in my mouth, and detect myriads of flavor and smell aromas from around the world. I happened to learn I like traveling too, and our chocolate transports me. It gives me a business sense that when someone retires, and doesn’t take their name off the business until they drain and close the account, that they belong in jail. My business mindset is righteousness, thats my sense of business. And so any business practice less, will reveal a persons true colors. While of course I was able to keep open, the two numb-skulls tried to fuck me over. After doing everything for the business and only asking my third, they felt entitled to take the money and close the bank account even tough Bob was retired and Erin was in full breech of his duties.

Hawaii Chocolate is exotic, new and growing. Only growing people can work in it. If they didn’t want to work to make money in the industry, they should not have pretended. I care about you, dear audience. You need Hawaii Chocolate, I get it. I am here for you. I am not going anywhere and you have the confidence, that I am the one behind all the chocolate you love. I am the person who has always been shipping it to you and talking to you about it on social media. Its all me.  And my partner/soul mate/lover Jen.  Jen has been stepping up and stepping when other partners have failed miserably.  Jen’s contribution is what made the business last, while I was being abused by my ex-business partners. Jen is the reason, we never had to stop purveying chocolate while the MAGA folks excuse themselves from our business and try to throw it down the drain. I wouldn’t do that to you. I have been here the whole time and I am not going anywhere. They never cared. I’m so sorry. I love you and am so happy to offer the chocolate I can to you as we grow the business beyond the limits of right-wing conspirators. Thank you for trusting me and Jen and getting to know us better! We are here for you and your chocolate needs! What can we do for you today? Thank you so much for your trust, understanding and loyalty. Thank you for enjoying our full menu of Hawaiian Cacao, Chocolate and Teas. Thank you for subscribing to our ceremonial cacao, reading our blogs and "The Bean-to-Bar Craft Chocolate and most of all, caring!





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