When he attended a variety of classes through 4H and FFA at his parents’ urging, little did Joel Bernhard know that it would lead to a successful career in making chocolate confections and owning a store!
“When you’re in middle school and high school and taking classes about gardening, food, nutrition and cooking, it doesn’t sound cool, but it ended up being fun. I have my Mom to thank for steering me toward cooking classes. She told me, “One day, you’re going to need to cook for yourself, so you can learn now.”
Joel has been blind since he was four years old. Surgery and radiation for a tumor on his optic nerve rendered him without sight, but not without a personal determination to defy others when they told him he couldn’t do certain things because he couldn’t see.
To cook, Joel learned to rely on his memory and sense of touch and smell to make and bake muffins that “tasted really good.” As his interest and proficiency in cooking grew, he attended the Culinary Arts Program at Moraine Park Technical College in Fond du Lac. During the second year of his studies there, Joel took an advanced baking course. One week was devoted to chocolate confections. Through trial and error, research and perseverance, he discovered a real pleasure in making chocolate truffles. “I thought to myself, ‘What’s better than chocolate-covered chocolate?!’” Armed with a variety of truffles, Joel started to sell candy to family and friends and through word of mouth, he began to develop a name for himself.
After completing his culinary classes, Joel worked as a prep chef at a local restaurant. He needed an area in which to make his truffles, so he rented kitchen space there on the weekends. When major holidays approached, he also had a kiosk at a mall where he sold his confections. Over time, he outgrew the restaurant kitchen space and decided to open his own shop. The building he chose was the old general store in downtown Theresa, Wisconsin, that is more than 100 years old and still retains its original tin ceilings and hardwood floors. Following renovations, Confections for Any Occasion opened in December 2002.
As it turns out, Joel has connections with the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired that go back several years. “My parents and I would stop and shop in the Sharper Vision Store when we were in town for my vision appointments.” Joel received a mobility cane from us and a scholarship. He purchased braille playing cards, a braille watch, and a money identifier from the store.
Looking back on the path that led him to entrepreneurship, Joel offers this advice to anyone who has vision loss, “Keep your dream alive and go for it. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
We think Joel has found his way to sweet success. Learn more about his chocolates at www.confectionsbyjoel.com.