HONOLULU (KHON2) — University of Hawaii at Manoa Spanish and interdisciplinary studies student has taken his degree… and done something completely different with his life.

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While at UH, Dylan Butterbaugh spent the time he wasn’t in his classes in a lab with his friend Dan O’Doherty.

O’Doherty was studying cacao as a potentially viable crop for Hawaii when he discovered his fascination with .

“I’d go into this lab and help him crack pods open, set up micro ferments and make chocolate on a really small scale,” said Butterbaugh.“[Professor Harry “Skip” Bittenbender] was so receptive to allowing just any student to come in and hang out in the lab and learn about whatever crops he was specialized in.”

This is when Butterbaugh made his first piece of chocolate, all the way from the cacao tree to the finished product.

Butterbaugh said he didn’t even like chocolate before, but the experience made him find a new appreciation for it.

“Until I tried what Dan was making in that lab, and I tasted things like cherries and spices,” Butterbaugh explained. “I thought he’d added or infused these flavors somehow…he said, ‘no, no, that’s genetics, and that’s, like, the environment that it grows in.’ And I just thought that was so neat, because until then, I thought a Hershey bar was a chocolate bar.”

The experience inspired Butterbaugh to try his hand at producing high-quality chocolate grown and manufactured in Hawaii.

He feared that growing and selling cacao seeds wasn’t the right place for him to start, as the labor and growing costs were too high.

Instead, he dreamt of how he might turn cacao farming into a viable industry for Hawaii as whole—namely, by establishing a manufacturing center to turn those crops into finished, value-added products.

“I’d always wanted to grow trees,” he said. “So I kind of wanted to figure out, ‘How do I create a job that can grow trees and still make a living for myself? Where I can stay in the state of Hawaii, which is where I was born and raised?’” 

“I’ve come to realize there’s two different types of industries here,” Butterbaugh added. “One is making candy and we’re trying to make really, really high-end chocolate. That’s a lot more like food.”

Butterbaugh documented his trials and tribulations on his YouTube channel with the intention of helping other chocolate makers and entrepreneurs.

His videos made their way into the chocolate community and now he has more than 30,000 subscribers from all over the world.

His company, Manoa Chocolate, aims to focus on sustainability and simplicity.

 The exterior packaging is made out of paper to help keep more plastic out of the landfill.

“We use (additional) ingredients that everyone in Hawaiʻi loves; lilikoi, mango, coconut, banana, etc,” said Butterbaugh. “We also love doing single-origin bars where the cacao comes from different ahupuaʻa in the state. This gives these bars a unique flavor profile.”

Mānoa Chocolate has a production facility located in Kapaʻa Quarry Industrial Park, and a shop in Kailua which offers both in-depth chocolate tastings and pairings with wine.

The in-house process of making Mānoa Chocolate includes roasting, tempering and molding the chocolate, with the Kailua shop manufacturing up to 7,000 bars per day.

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They sell their products across the Hawaiian Islands and the continental United States.