Story and photos by: Luke Lawrence, Augusta University
“Love for your fellow man. That’s the meaning, and that’s what we try to embody,” said James Stefanakos, owner and founder of Agape Chocolates. As he was preparing to make several bars from scratch, I had inquired as to what led to the name of his business. Like James, the word “agape” has Greek origins, and roughly translates to “love and charity for your fellow man.” Being a 2nd generation Greek immigrant, James wanted to infuse his heritage with his benevolent values: loving one another well; giving back to those who need help; making a difference in the community around you. These values are at the core of Agape Chocolates, and they have been there since the company’s inception.
It started in 2014 when James left his engineering job at a local firm. “I felt like I wasn’t making a difference in the lives around me,” he said. “I wanted to give back; I wanted to help people.” After having a revelatory moment on the way back from visiting his parents, James decided to start making homemade chocolate.
At first, this was just a hobby, but, after a steady increase in demand, James knew that a business could be formed. However, James also knew that, from the beginning, he wanted to run things outside of the established norms. “We wanted to give back immediately; we want there to be a standard set from day one.” After doing research, James decided to focus on helping local at-risk youth by donating 15% of every chocolate bar sold to local food programs for youth students. When asking James why he ended up focusing on local food programs, he replied, “one in five children lack access to nutritional food on a regular basis. We live in the United States of American, how could kids not have food?” It is such a simple, yet beautiful sentiment, “all kids deserve to eat.” It is this kind of straight-to-the-point, empathetic thinking that embodies Agape Chocolates, right down to their logo: “Buy a bar, feed a child.” To this day, every bar sold at Agape Chocolates has donated partial profits to food programs. To James, it is all about giving back. “It’s not about how many bars we’ve sold, its about how many children we’ve fed.”
James does not even like calling himself the owner. He prefers the title CFG, or Chief Food Giver. Talking to James, I could sense nothing but honesty and dedication from him. I thought to myself, “here is a man who had a great, stable job who risked it all to give back to his community. He’s worked hard, day in and day out for five years to bring people delicious chocolate as well as meals for local children.” If that does not embody the American Dream, I do not know what does. You can find Agape Chocolates in the heart of Graniteville, South Carolina. James is there working nearly every day of the week, occasionally with the help of his wife and three children, the latter being the masterminds behind each chocolate bar’s wrapping design. In fact, Xander, James’s ten-year-old son, has helped his father make nearly every single chocolate bar since March. “We’re a family business, and that doesn’t just mean my own. We are here for everyone.” It was easy to see that, while James assured me that not every day is easy, and there have been tough times, that James would not want it any other way. There was a warm, welcoming air extending over Agape Chocolates, and a sense of sincerity radiated from James the entire time I was there.
To have such a heart for others, and to sacrifice parts of your own life and comfort to help others, is a rare thing to see today. It is people like the Stefanakos family who can give us hope for the future, hope that kindness and care will always prevail. Augusta Locally Grown is thankful for James and Agape Chocolates. You can find James on our weekly listings of vendors or stop by his shop in Graniteville! Agape Chocolates will be launching a brand-new chocolate bar this October named, “Scarlet Zing.” Be sure to buy a bar and remember that it is much more than that!