EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third and final of three columns by Black Dinah Chocolatiers co-founder Kate Shaffer.

When I first met my husband, Steve, I remember thinking, now here’s a guy I can talk about Ideas with.

He was the young owner of a computer business in Santa Cruz, California, and my best friend’s new housemate. She brought him to dinner at my house one fall evening. I made a time-consuming and utterly delicious ratatouille, because she had told me he was a vegetarian.

We all drank wine, and talked about serious things late into the night. And though it was years (and many boyfriends and girlfriends in between) before Steve and I would start dating, if you ask my friend Krystal, there is little doubt that Steve and I fell in love that first night in the mountains of Santa Cruz.

We were married five years later in a friend’s backyard in Blue Hill, Maine. Our vows were full of big Ideas about love and respect. Our goal was not to start a family and buy a house, but to stumble upon something that we both felt passionate about, and build a business out of it.

When the Shaffers got married in Blue Hill in 1999, their goal was to find something they both felt passionate about and to build a business out of it.

When the Shaffers got married in Blue Hill in 1999, their goal was to find something they both felt passionate about and to build a business out of it. Photo courtesy of Kate Shaffer

To our friends and family, this trajectory could not have been less understandable for a couple whose combined degrees included philosophy, sociology, religion and English literature; and whose past jobs were waitressing, limousine driving, bagel-baking and selling kitchen knives out of the hatchback of a Datsun B210.

To everyone’s horror, Steve and I sold the bill-paying (but soul-sucking) business of computer repair after we were married barely a year.

Then we sold almost everything we had at a yard sale, bought a leaky 1978 Dodge camper, and celebrated our first anniversary over pizza and beer on the side of a blue highway, somewhere deep in the Rocky Mountains.

We lived on the road for six months, meandering through state and national parks, eating at small-town diners, and talking about the business we would create together.

We had a lot of ideas, and made a lot of plans.

Of course, not a single one of those ideas or plans had anything to do with chocolate. But when, seven years later, we found ourselves making chocolate on a tiny island in the middle of Penobscot Bay, we knew we had stumbled upon the big Idea.

Liquid chocolate is poured into forms at Black Dinah Chocolatiers in Westbrook. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Liquid chocolate is poured into forms at Black Dinah Chocolatiers in Westbrook. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

It’s one thing to dream about starting a business with your spouse, and quite another to actually do it. And do it every day for 10 years. And plan to do it for at least another 10.

A business is an ill-behaved, unpredictable, unreliable, ever-changing organism. Ours has, at times, destroyed us. As individuals and as a couple.

It has also, at times, forged us into something strong, and beautiful, and utterly unrecognizable to that young, newly married couple eating pizza in the Rockies. They surely would have been disappointed in us.

Business partners are that most of all. Sometimes they also are friends, but first, always first, they’re in business together.

I struggled for years as I realized the definition of my relationship to my husband was changing the more we depended on Black Dinah to support us.

Our sweet island home turned into a public space that hosted employees and customers every waking hour of our days.

Our fierce romance, which had been the force that ruled our lives for a decade, was now second fiddle to projections and spreadsheets, payroll and supply lists.

Kate Shaffer of Black Dinah Chocolatiers makes ganache, the inside portion of a French truffle, in their Westbrook facility. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Kate Shaffer of Black Dinah Chocolatiers makes ganache, the inside portion of a French truffle, in the company’s Westbrook facility. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

We held morning planning meetings, over coffee, in our bed. And this all made me unbearably sad. I felt I had failed at love. That I had betrayed the Idea of love.

I had a neighbor when I lived on that mountain in Santa Cruz, an elderly widow whose ring finger had grown around her wedding band like the ragged trunk of an old oak. I would visit her on occasion, to bring her an experiment from my kitchen and to talk through a problem I was having, or share a new idea.

I remember her laughing when I bemoaned that it would take me another three years to get my degree if I kept my full-time waitressing job. “Three years!” she barked, “Three years is a blink of an eye!”

My relationship with Steve has gone through several incarnations in the last 20 years. We’ll celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary at the end of the month, and this trip around the sun has seen us as primarily business partners. And we’re good at it. Together.

That young couple meandering the blue highways all those years ago had the right idea. And the couple we are now knows what it takes to make the idea real.

And this, too, is fleeting. An eye-blink. But for now, I look forward to sharing my morning coffee in bed with Steve, where we yawn and stretch and plan to take over the world.

Kate Shaffer and her husband, Steve Shaffer, co-own Black Dinah Chocolatiers in Westbrook and Isle au Haut. Kate Shaffer is the author of “Desserted: Recipes and Tales from an Island Chocolatier.” She can be contacted at:

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