Jerry SwainOccupation: Founder and CEO, Jer’s Chocolates
Home base: Solana Beach, Calif.
AW: You’re a chocolatier, which might be the coolest job ever. How did this come about?
Jerry Swain: I’ve always had a passion/craving for chocolate and sweets. One year, while I was home for Thanksgiving break from college, I was playing around in my parents’ kitchen and created some chocolate-covered peanut–butter balls (now sold as Jer’s Chocolates confections). When I brought these treats back to my friends at school, the response was overwhelming. Quickly, they became a popular and highly anticipated campus treat. For nine consecutive years after graduation, I threw an annual holiday party for 200-plus friends who flew in from around the country. Aside from seeing friends and enjoying the “balls,” the party was goodwill-focused and raised money for the local food banks. During [that time], I was working at IBM and in the high-tech industry. Fast-forward several years … I got the entrepreneurial bug and had a heart-to-heart conversation with my dad about my future and passions. His wisdom made me think about a lot of things, and it was then that I took the leap from high-tech to chocolate.
Getting to Know JERBest way to unwind: Spending time with my wife and children. They keep me busy, grounded and smiling.
Last thing I bought: Angry Birds activity book for my son, Tinker Bell coloring book for my daughter
Favorite hotels: Hilton Los Cabos and The Grand Del Mar
Last song I listened to: “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles
Favorite pastime: Playing sports
Favorite candy (besides his own): Peppermint creams. Also, my favorite food is ice cream — does that count?
I just returned from: Argentina
Cocktail of choice: Vodka and lemonade, or beer
AW: We’re glad you did (although our waistlines aren’t!) — we’re addicted to your chocolates. Any chance you’ll do something special with Jer’s Chocolates to commemorate your Road Warrior experience?
JS: Yes. One of the best things about the contest was meeting the other winners. So, I started thinking: How can we turn this good fortune and attention into something that can help others as well? We decided to donate a portion of our website proceeds to the nonprofit City Year, the cause that Gillian [Smith, fellow RW winner] is committed to. After meeting and speaking with her during the Road Warrior trip in San Diego, I saw the synergy of the objectives of her charity and our Jer’s Cares initiative. The focus on students and education is near and dear to my heart. So, we have created a campaign on our website, www.jers.com, where our company will donate a portion of proceeds from product sales [during the months of March and April] to City Year.
AW: That’s great! What chocolates will be available for this Road Warrior campaign?
JS: The whole shebang. Our specialty is our award-winning, all-natural chocolate-peanut-butter collection that has 11 varieties, including peanut butter with creamy caramel, buttery toffee, salty pretzels, etc. That’s our signature collection. However, any and all of our products will be available for the fundraising campaign — clusters, bars, Jer’s Squares, etc.
AW: The Jer’s Cares initiative you mentioned — what exactly is it?
JS: Our commitment to giving back is our core value; we live and breathe this through our Jer’s Cares initiative. One example is that Jer’s Chocolates is involved with the San Diego Food Bank, and each year we create a campaign that donates both product and proceeds to provide meals for people in need. … I feel blessed that I can volunteer in local schools and give talks to students in the Southern California area offering insights on following your dreams, interviewing skills and the importance of staying in school.