There's no rule that says chocolates can't be shaped like lipsticks, or martinis, or footballs, but if there were, Maggie Callahan would probably find a way around it.
The Austin-based chocolatier has built a career — and the successful brand Maggie Louise Confections — out of subverting expectations, creating bold new products in an industry that normally adheres to tradition. And her fans can't get enough of her delicious, unexpected treats.
"When I was first starting out, chocolate was either either mom-and-pop companies or giant corporations," says Callahan. "No one was treating chocolate like an artistic medium — doing cool and sculptural things with it without changing the integrity of its taste."
Callahan's route to the kitchen was an unusual one. Originally from Indiana, she first earned a bachelor's degree in political science from Virginia Tech and then a law degree from Harvard University. Years spent as a lawyer in New York City and Washington, D.C. kept the analytical side of her brain happy, but by 2011, when Callahan and her technology-entrepreneur husband, Kevin, moved to Austin for his company, she was craving a more artistic challenge.
"Austin was so creative, so colorful and vibrant," she says. "It made me realize I needed to be fulfilled, and was capable of so much more. I knew I wouldn't be remotely happy until I found out what that was."
Wanting to also set an example for her young daughter (her family has since grown to include a son), Callahan set out to discover her passion. She took classes in interior design, volunteered at museums, and signed up for cooking classes at the Austin location of Le Cordon Bleu (which closed in 2017). It was there that she discovered chocolate.
She opened Maggie Louise Confections in 2013, which now has an atelier and boutique at 1017 E. 6th St in Austin. The challenges facing her were immense, from testing recipes (usually between 10 pm and 2 am, so she could spend the day with her family) to building chocolate molds to designing packaging to figuring out how to ship an easily meltable product across the U.S. during summer. But as Callahan states, "I've always enjoyed a challenge. If someone's gonna figure this out, it's gonna be me."
Utilize the knowledge of people she already knew, she figured, and be unafraid to ask questions of strangers whose expertise could be useful. Realizing the biomedical industry was already shipping cold (not frozen) products year-round, she found a source through there to provide highly insulated packaging. Since traditional chocolate boxes wouldn't fit her uniquely shaped creations, Callahan built her own for two years until she settled on a style and design she liked enough to have them custom made.
One way in which Maggie Louise Confections grew was through social media, a visual platform that was already popular (thanks, Facebook) and growing quickly (hello, Instagram). Callahan's signature style of overhead shots on a clean, white background stood out and made her images immensely sharable. High-profile, Fortune 500 corporate clients in beauty, fashion, and software came calling, and Oprah Winfrey selected the chocolates for her 2014 "favorite things" list.
With the knowledge that gifting is one of the top ways people are introduced to her creations, Callahan delights in coming up with seasonal ideas. "Breakfast in bed," with tiny waffles and champagne bottles, for Mother's Day, or "fries before guys" for women to give their gal pals near Valentine's Day (or any day, really). When spring has sprung, a garden's worth of vegetables pop up to accompany the more traditional bunnies, chicks, and eggs.
"What you’re gifting says something about who you are," explains Callahan. "Everything we make has an element of cleverness and whimsy. We're inspired by the past, but creating for the future."