Few former Bush aides still have a foothold in the Pentagon, but Christian Edwards and his sister, Dana Manatos—both of whom were aides for President George W. Bush—are more firmly ensconced there than ever. This time, as chocolatiers.
Edwards, 33, landed a job in the White House's advance office after volunteering on Bush's 2000 campaign. When Manatos graduated from college in 2003, she joined him. While Edwards traveled with Bush, Manatos, 30, plotted the President's schedule in five-minute slots. Both were promoted in 2005, but after years of sleeping with their BlackBerrys decided to leave during the summer of 2007. "It was a difficult decision," says Edwards. "We got to know the President in a way most people couldn't."
Instead of leveraging their connections into government jobs, they chose to revive Chocolate Celebrations, the Pittsburgh-based business that had been in their family for nearly a century. To reposition the business as a national gourmet brand, Edwards and Manatos raised $150,000 in personal funds and bank loans. For two years they experimented with recipes and packaging while setting up contracts with vendors. (The project was delayed when Edwards became Sarah Palin's deputy chief of staff in late 2008.) In 2009, they took the renamed company, Edward Marc Chocolatier, to market and brought on their younger brother, who, as "chief candy maker," had devised a menu of new flavors.
Their biggest coup was landing a coveted 1,500-square-foot boutique in the Pentagon this February. The location helped them win contracts with the State Dept., embassies, and members of Congress. "Working at the White house opened their horizons for what the family business could go into," says Dana Perino, Bush's former press secretary. "If you hadn't worked [there], you really wouldn't think your chocolate company could get a contract with the Department of Defense."
The siblings are planning stores for New York, Los Angeles, and Georgetown. Meanwhile, they're adding clients from both sides of the aisle—Secretary of State Hillary Clinton among them. Says Edwards, "The chocolate business is nonpartisan."
When Life Is A Box of Chocolates
250,000: Pounds of cocoa used by Edward Marc this year, up from 30,000 three years ago
47: Percent increase in the chocolate company's sales from 2008 to 2009
$150,000: Money raised in 2007 to begin rebranding the family's chocolate business
18,968: Number of fresh-dipped strawberries sold since Feb. 1, at $29.95 a pound
Data: Edward Marc Chocolatier