Modern Day Willy Wonkas

If you're looking to make a career change, this may sound pretty tempting: Open up a chocolate factory, eat all you want, make everyone around you happy.

That is exactly the dream being lived by two California men, but getting to chocolate nirvana was a bit of a rocky road.

The Early Show's Dave Price reports for the "My New Life" series.

First, let me say this chocolate, it's the super-premium variety, the kind that melts in your mouth and is molded by hand. It is incredible.

But before we get to their story, a personal note about pursuing a passion.

In the mid 1990s, I was a human resources manager - a "success" in the corporate world! The pay? Pretty darn good! The satisfaction? Not so good. I left a world of comfort...to become a weatherman in Erie, Pa. It was my dream. I was confident I made the right choice. And then I was gripped by sheer panic.

Changing your life can be rewarding, but it's never easy, even if your new life is making chocolates.

John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg are now enjoying the sweet smell of success. Their chocolate factory in Berkeley, Calif., has customers swooning: "This chocolate is especially wonderful," says one buyer.

And the cash registers humming: "$93 even. Thank you," a cashier tells a customer.

But before they became modern day Willy Wonkas, Steinberg was a successful doctor and Scharffenberger ran his own winery.

"I had a wonderful time," Scharffenberger says about his successful business. "But after awhile, I got to the point where I really didn't want to do that all of my life."

He loved wine but not the wine business.

As a doctor, Steinberg was happy practicing medicine, until one day 16 years ago. "I was diagnosed with lymphoma."

And the physician became the patient.

"There's a kind of emptiness inside," Steinberg says. "There's a kind of tightness in my stomach."

San Francisco café owner Roger Hillyard recalls visiting Steinberg, his doctor, and close friend: "He said, 'Well, I've got some bad news. I'm retiring. I have cancer, and I'm not gonna practice medicine anymore.' "

The news hit Hillyard "lLike a ton of bricks!" he exclaims.

Steinberg notes, "When I was diagnosed with this, I was told that I had a 10-year median life expectancy. So I had this very immediate sense of, of mortality."

Steinberg could have just accepted his fate. Instead, he says, "I was not going to make the illness the center of my life.

"I started doing a number of different things. Cooking had always been an interest of mine. I met more and more people in the food world, and one of them happened to start talking to me about chocolate in 1994."

John Scharffenberger had also been a patient of Dr. Steinberg. Together, they said: Let's build ourselves a chocolate factory!

Scharffenberger notes, "Our goals were light enough, pure enough, that if we had just made small amounts of yummy chocolate, I think Robert and I would be really happy."

Laughing, Scharffenberger agrees friends who watched them go through this thought they were going crazy.

"All my friends thought I should have stayed in the champagne business," he says.

But Steinberg notes, "You know, I never did think that people thought I was crazy."

Oh really? Perhaps Hillyard can refresh his memory.

"No way! No way," Hillyard says, "I mean, this is a pipe dream, right? This is a fantasy, a nice one." Was he being supportive? "Oh, go!" Hillyard says, "Right. I'll sell your candy!"

Laughing, Steinberg says he chooses to ignore that his friend thought he was crazy.

There's a lesson to this story, and it's a simple one.

Steinberg says, "I think the one thing is, you can't be afraid to fail."

Scharffenberger adds, "Failure was never an option. We've just tried to look at life and make one little aspect of life as good as it could possibly be - and that's chocolate."

Steinberg, however, is not cancer free. He still undergoes periodic chemo, but he's already survived over 15 years since the diagnosis. And what an incredible love for life he has -- both of them, really. Scharffen Berger chocolates are sold nationwide. There are two retail stores, including one right here in Manhattan.
  • Tatiana Morales

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