How to Quit Your Shit Job and Become… a Pro Chocolate Maker!

Land Chocolate founder Phil Landers quit his dogsbody job in radio to become a real-life Willy Wonka.

by Rose Stokes
09 August 2019, 8:00am

Photos by Peter Landers

If the world is going to be on literal fire in a few decades' time, you may as well spend the rest of your life doing something you actually enjoy. That's where our Quit Your Shit Job column comes in, speaking to people who turned their back on their totally average and uninspiring jobs to pursue something they truly wanted. This week, we hear from Land Chocolate founder Phil Landers, who left the daily grind of radio production to become an IRL Willy Wonka, making bean-to-bar chocolate for his own company.

VICE: Hi Phil. What did you do previously?
Phil Landers: I worked in various radio production roles for the BBC.

Why did it suck?
Although it had been my dream to work in radio, I was just a dogsbody and never felt I was doing anything substantial or worthwhile. I also really wasn’t very good reporting in to someone – I’m much better working for myself and on my own terms.

What did you switch to instead?
I’m a chocolate maker. I started working as a chocolatier making chocolates and truffles, and then decided I wanted to make my own brand of chocolate. Now, I buy, roast and grind my own beans, and sell the products to restaurants and cafes or individual customers.

Land Chocolate founders Phil Landers
Photo by Peter Landers

Was there a lightbulb moment?
I suppose you could say I had a mid-twenties crisis. My contract was coming up for renewal but I just didn’t feel that excited about staying where I was, so I decided to roll the dice and take a career break. I knew I wanted to do something more practical, so began working as a salon assistant at a hairdressers, but soon decided it wasn’t for me.

I’d saved enough money together to go away for a bit, and ended up in Central America. I didn’t speak any Spanish but fell in love with the region, and did one of those naff tourist things in Nicaragua where you go and work on a cocoa farm for a couple of days. I was completely besotted with the whole process from the off and the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s worth noting that I am and have always been a chocoholic, so there was definitely an underlying passion for the product! I brought some cocoa beans back to the UK and managed to get myself a job as a salesperson at Paul A Young. I was rubbish at selling, but used the resources to learn more about the process, while studying the art of chocolate-making in my spare time.

What do you love most about your job?
The freedom. I can do what I want and I’m completely in control. I also love taking risks and knowing that the only person who suffers the consequences is me. They’re my problems, and I have to fix them. As an introvert, I also love that I can be left to my own devices with no interruptions.

Are there any downsides?
You can’t hide – if anything goes wrong, all roads lead back to you. And I’ve made loads of mistakes. Another thing about owning a business is you really can never switch off, which takes some getting used to. Other people my age are getting married and having kids, but my relationship is with my business, which I guess is a positive or negative thing depending on your vantage point! The only other thing is that I always smell of chocolate, and not in a good way. The smells that come out of the production process are kind of grim. I usually leave the workshop smelling of wet dog.

Have you ever regretted the switch?
I remember having the worst panic attack of my life with my parents the day I got the keys to my first workshop. I’d sunk all my savings into the project and the stakes were ridiculously high. My dad took me for a walk in the end and gave me some fatherly reassurance, which made me feel better. I obviously have the odd blip from time to time, but I’ve never really looked back since.

What do you wish you'd known about your new job before you started?
I wish I’d understood the complexities of running a business. As it stands, I’ve had to learn as I go, make all the mistakes and try to hide them. So far so good, I guess – I’m still here!

What was the single worst moment of your dull job?
It’s a toss-up between sitting through listeners’ mundane stories on the phone and looking after rude celebrities, of which there were MANY.

How do you manage not to eat chocolate all day every day?
I’ve had to teach myself to see chocolate in a different way. Plus, the kind I make isn’t the sort you can stuff into your gob and get through in one go.

Do you ever just fancy a Snickers?
Hell yes. But I never buy high-street brands now, and will eat them only if someone else does. It’s like with anything else. Once you’ve been behind the curtain and seen what the whole supply chain looks like, the state of large-scale manufacturing processes gets harder to ignore from a moral standpoint. It’s quite hard to unsee all of the exploitation, which is part of what drives me to make better, fairer chocolate.

Rate your life out of ten before, and now:
Life before was a solid five – middle of the road. These days, I’m more consistently an eight, but a ten on the good days. Saying that, the bad days are much more likely to push my mood down further than they used to given it’s my own business.

How smug do you feel when you talk to your mates in shit jobs?
I'm just happy I took a chance and it seems to be working for me right now. If it all fell apart tomorrow, at least I had a go. I can look back and be happy with what I've achieved – I hope it doesn't fall apart just yet though.

What advice would you give other people who hate their jobs?
Figure out why you hate your job first of all. Sometimes the remedy is just as simple as taking a break. If you are set on taking the plunge though, remember that the negative consequences are never as bad as you think. You can always start again... again.

Thanks, Phil!