Even as a child, Robert Kent had an entrepreneurial spirit. The Forest Hills neighbor and creator of Kent Fine Chocolates recalls one year, just before going away to summer camp, when he asked to borrow fifty dollars from his father, David.
“We went to Sam’s Club, and I bought all the candy I could,” recalls Kent. “Our cabin was farthest from the trading post, and I saw an opportunity to mark up the candy by 50% and save my fellow campers a 30-minute walk to the store. It was a business opportunity, and it lasted four whole days before the camp found out and shut me down. I remember getting a stern talking to from counselors.”
With his new project, Kent Fine Chocolates, Kent has nurtured that youthful enterprising attitude and brought his dream to life. Kent Fine Chocolates produces artisan chocolate bonbons and other confections on a small scale in a local commercial kitchen.
“I love starting things. I love testing new ideas and finding ways to do things differently,” says Kent. “What makes us special are our unique flavors like banana pudding and key lime pie. The taste is uncanny – they taste just like banana pudding and key lime pie. We focus on quality above everything else. Each piece is immaculate and irresistible, from the luminescent shine on the outside of the bonbon to the ganache filling.”
Though his dad bankrolled his childhood enterprise, he credits the rest of his family, particularly mom Carol, for sending him into the kitchen.
“I’m the youngest in the family, and I can’t tell you how many times my brother and sister would have friends over. I just wanted to play with them, but they shooed me away, so I’d go downstairs into the kitchen with my mom. She’s a true cook. She’s understands the interplay between ingredients and flavors, and she cooks by feel. I learned the best possible way – by sitting at her knee, watching her and learning from her.”
Kent’s culinary beginnings may have been simple, but he soon learned making bonbons is more complicated than it sounds.
“What I love about the chocolate business is that it blends artistry, science and perfectionism into one delicious little morsel. To make a bonbon costs about 20 cents, and if you mess up one step along the way the whole batch is ruined. When you finish the process, which takes about 3 days, and you flip over that mold and those bonbons fall out as shiny as crystals, it’s the best feeling in the world. The temperature has to be precise, and the ingredient ratios have to be carefully tracked. I know to the tenth of a gram what I put into each bonbon, and it takes that level of precision to be consistently quality and consistently delicious.”
The pandemic hasn’t been kind to confection companies whose lifeblood is big corporate events, weddings and parties, but Kent isn’t complaining. In fact, COVID is the backdrop of his business’ origin story.
“My wife, Rachel, and I have hosted a no-holds-barred holiday dinner for 30 people for several years with 7 courses of gourmet food,” Kent says, “but we offered the meals to-go during the pandemic. I created the chocolates for that, and people loved them. My mother-in-law asked for chocolates to give as gifts for business colleagues, and we sold some at pop-up shops. It’s the idea of a little luxury – I like to think of them as perfection in a bite. It’s an affordable luxury, but I think we’re all looking for something to make us feel just a little bit better. There’s a lot of heartache in the world and a lot of stress that we’re all feeling. A bite of chocolate can, for just a moment, make us forget the woes of the world.”
Kent dreams of having a bricks-and-mortar shop for his confections one day, but for now he’s focusing on direct sales to customers online, shipping overnight across Texas and Oklahoma and hand-delivering to addresses nearby. Park Cities Petals offers them as an add-on with flowers, and he’s working on event orders, which continue to grow.
“The hardest part has been everything but the chocolates,” says Kent. “Making the chocolates is hard, don’t get me wrong, but it’s only 50% of the business. It’s about marketing, it’s about packaging, it’s about the website. It’s about finding space to make the chocolates – I’ve gone through several commercial kitchens – and worrying about temperature control. It’s a lot of fun, though. It’s a dynamic business that provides lots of puzzles to work through, and I’m a puzzle solver. The best part, of course, is getting to eat the final product.”
Somehow, Kent finds time to cultivate his business, spend time at home with Rachel and their two young children and enjoy his day job as state director for the Trust for Public Land. It, too, can be traced back to his childhood and days spent outdoors with Boy Scout Troop 890.
“I was an Eagle Scout back in the day, and I was fortunate to spend time in the most beautiful places in America – the Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountains, New Mexico and great spots that instilled in me a deep love and passion for protecting these natural places and letting other people share in that joy, too,” says Kent. “The Trust for Public Land believes that people and communities are transformed when they have close-to-home access to parks, nature and the outdoors. We are working all across the country to make that a reality. Here in Texas, where I lead our work, we are mostly focused in Dallas right now but have done work statewide. We’re trying to make sure everyone who lives in Dallas has a park within a ten-minute walk of home. Right now, about 73% of the city has a park within walking distance of their house, and we want to get that as high as we can so that everyone can have safe access to the outdoors. That’s been so important in the last 18 to 24 months during the never-ending days of COVID. For so many folks, the only place to socialize is outdoors. That’s been true for my family because we have two parks within walking distance, but there are far too many folks – and far too many children in particular – who don’t have a park to go to within walking distance of home. That’s something we’ve got to change.”
The Trust for Public Land was instrumental in the City of Dallas’ recent decision to purchase 82 acres of new park land along the Woody Branch of Five Mile Creek in the heart of southern Dallas. The unanimous city council vote will lead to the largest addition to our parks system in more than 20 years. The land, purchased for $2.49 million from the city’s Reforestation Fund and financed by developers who pay fees when they remove trees from their properties, hosts 16,000 trees which capture an estimated 3,700 metric tons of carbon each year.
“We need to be good stewards of this gift that is the beautiful planet Earth,” says Kent. “What I love about the Trust for Public Land is that it puts people at the center of the equation. There are so many nonprofits working in the environmental space that simply say, ‘If we get rid of the people, the problem will be solved.’ I don’t think that’s true. By providing better connection to the environment, we can all become better stewards of it.”
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.