Chocolatier follows her heart
The Good Life|January 2021
A long and winding road to doing what she loves:
SEBASTIAN MORAGA

Some leaps of faith are longer than others. Some leaps of faith are tastier than others.

Willow Merritt is a living, breathing, baking example of both.

A wildland firefighter, she started making chocolates a decade and a half ago. With time, her hobby became her passion, and then, three years ago, her passion became her livelihood when she launched Rock Island’s Yeti Chocolates in 2018.

For a while, she did both, firefighting in summer and making chocolates in the winter, but now, she has gone all-in on the chocolates. She still suits up for the forest service, but in an as-needed capacity, serving as liaison between helicopter companies and the service.

She no longer works the firelines, preferring the heat that comes from her own ovens, instead.

The challenge of being creative, the artistry of decorating the chocolates, and the desire to see her dreams come true all led her away from the firehoses to start her own chocolate business.

“It got to a point in my career at the forest service where it was like, ‘I don’t want to look back in 20 years and wonder if I could have made the chocolate business work. I want to give this a go,’” Willow said.

She liked firefighting, and the thought of losing that steady paycheck sounded scary. Scarier still, though, was the idea of going through life haunted by regrets.

“Leaving that (firefighting) job was sad but at the same time, I was going into something I really loved to do, so I didn’t feel bad about either aspect,” she said.

Besides, her status as a federal employee gave her a bit of a safety net, in the form of three years of rehire rights. She figured that in three years she would know one way or the other if this chocolate thing panned out.

And so far, although being a business owner is harder than she thought, she said she has no regrets about her choice.

“The business is doing well. COVID obviously threw us all a big curveball, but I think I’m going to continue forth down this path,” she said.

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