How Jonathan Grahm Took Over Compartes at 19 Years Old
Inspiration for entrepreneurs is all around, but the deep details about how a brand goes from an idea to a physical product or service are fuzzy. We’re breaking it down this week with Jonathan Grahm of Compartes. In part 2 of a 4-part series, learn about how he took over the company as a teen and turned it into the business it is today.
Be sure to check out the first part to this series on Compartes.
How did you get the initial idea to start Compartes?
Jonathan Grahm: Compartes has actually been a business since 1950. It is one of the oldest confectionary In the country—the original owner named Mrs. Compartes wanted to make European style chocolates in the United States. Mr. Compartes was friends with my great grandfather—they both used to write songs for people like Frank Sinatra. When I was 15 I began working at the shop and took things over. I eventually rebranded Compartes into what it is today so many people think Compartes is a new brand, but we have been in business for 67 years.
Your chocolate wrappers are as diverse and imaginative as your flavors. What’s your process for deciding on the right wrapper design for each flavor?
Jonathan Grahm: We call them chocolate bar boxes as opposed to wrappers because most wrappers you tear open and throw in the garbage. Our boxes are made specifically so you can keep them as a piece of art and they retain their shape. In terms of designing, I am constantly designing new and innovative designs. I am so inspired by the ingredients I use as well as different details that I love. LA is one of my greatest inspirations.
I constantly evolve my designs. Each time I reprint a bar, the box is slightly changed. While most people wouldn’t notice the subtle change, I make each round better, whether it be moving a palm tree ever so slightly or changing the hues slightly. If you collected each round of packaging you would be able to see the ever so subtle evolution.
Did you have any prior experience in product, graphic or pattern design?
Jonathan Grahm: No, Compartes is a business that I took over at 19 years old—it is basically a reflection of me. It is chocolate, art, fashion and design all rolled and LA all rolled into one.
What was the first chocolate you designed for Compartes?
Jonathan Grahm: I originally started with truffles; they were my first design. The truffles each feature a vibrant pattern which differentiates each flavor. I started by hand drawing each design and that led to computer aided design. Each design featured geometric patterns which top each truffle. We’ve evolved and now you can even create your own customized designs. We have done stuff for Gucci and Netflix with these custom truffle patterns. They are extremely popular holiday gifts!
When you were just starting, what did your operation look like? How many people did you have helping you then, and how have you expanded?
Jonathan Grahm: Compartes has been and always will be ran as a small business. When I started I had 3 employees and I currently have less than 25. What’s important to me is that my business have a small business feel. Everything is homemade—we don’t use huge machinery, we use old techniques and make chocolate the same way we used to 30 years ago, using techniques handed down. This gives us an edge and a specific taste because every single piece is made by hand with love. Each bar is hand scooped and studded with ingredients. As we have grown, we have maintained that quality and no matter how big we get we will always do things this way.
How did you spread the word about Compartes when you were just starting out?
Jonathan Grahm: Compartes has never done any advertising or marketing, so really it has spread from word of mouth and by taste. Every person who is gifted a Compartes bar becomes a fan so it’s turned into this phenomenon through experiencing it themselves. Whether that sharing is through friends or social media (we have over 200k followers now) people want to show off the bars. They are so beautiful and are huge on Instagram.
Margaret is a freelance graphic designer and writer based in Los Angeles. She received her MFA in Graphic Design from the California Institute of the Arts. She writes for AIGA’s blog Eye on Design, and is currently designing futuristic things for USC’s World Building Media Lab.