Last edited 11:59 a.m., March 25, 2020
Askinosie Chocolate LLC has furloughed half of its Commercial Street factory staff amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Shawn Askinosie, the company's founder and CEO, said he had been considering the decision about 48 hours prior to Tuesday afternoon’s stay-at-home order announcement. He said the furloughs of factory workers were made during the news conference by city and county leaders.
"That's the reality that we find ourselves in order to maintain financial viability and be a responsible citizen in regard to the stay-in-place order," Askinosie said yesterday. "I’ve spent 15 years building this and ... I have an obligation to the community and to my employees that are furloughed, and not furloughed, for them to have a business to come back to."
Askinosie said half of the company’s factory staff amounts to 10 people, whom he hopes to bring back within 90 days. The individuals are eligible for unemployment, he said, pointing to the federal stimulus package that could bring some relief. NBC News reports the $2 trillion proposal includes unemployment benefits for furloughed workers.
Askinosie Chocolate will continue production with three people and another in shipping, Askinosie said, noting the company has more than a year's supply of cocoa beans to make chocolate, including fulfilling online orders. He said the storefront has been closed to the public and factory tours have been paused.
"My primary objective in all of this is to yes, financially get by on what I would say is one engine, and that we’re going to get through that and do what we can for employees and run the business the best way we can," Askinosie said.
A former attorney, Askinosie founded the 514 E. Commercial St. business in 2005. The company has had profit-sharing arrangements in place with farmers from Ecuador, Tanzania, the Philippines and the Amazon, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. The company has previously reported around $2 million in annual revenues.
Earlier this year, Askinosie Chocolate funded the opening of a preschool in Mababu, Tanzania. The startup cost for the preschool was $90,000, which Askinosie last month said was funded by Askinosie Chocolate and a private donation through The Askinosie Foundation, according to past reporting.
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