From Criminal Defense Lawyer To Chocolatier

By Erika Janik | March 29, 2017


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Vata Edari always loved chocolate. And reading about it and experimenting with chocolate became a refuge for her from her work as a successful criminal defense attorney.

Law wasn’t the career she saw for herself growing up. Edari grew up in a family of activitists and she saw lawyers as part of the problem, not the solution.

“I couldn’t believe how flawed the system was,” says Edari. “I’m going to be an activist. I’m going to be doing something in another capacity to make change happen.”

But while working for the Fair Housing Council in Madison she found herself doing work that she believed should be done by the lawyers.

“I was being paid seven bucks an hour so I thought I should go to law school,” explains Edari. 

She was drawn immediately to being a criminal defense attorney. It wasn’t an easy road. As a young woman and a woman of color in this field, she was often hazed by other attorneys and deputies. But she loved the work and practiced in state and federal jurisdictions throughout the country.

At the same time, Edari was also developing her chocolate hobby. She decided one year to make a saffron bonbon has holiday gifts. They were a big hit. 

“I don’t think people knew what I was doing. That was my refuge. That’s what I would do when I wasn’t doing research on my cases,” says Edari. “I was researching chocolate.”

About three years ago, Edari left the federal defense system and returned to hometown of Madison. Establishing her own practice was harder than she expected despite her roots in this place. She hoped to use her chocolate to get referrals for her practice but it was the chocolate that really drew people to her.

“As much as I love practicing law, it’s really grinding,” explains Edari. 

Trial lawyers have one of the highest rates of depression, divorce, suicide, substance abuse, and miscarriage. The more Edari thought about that, the more she realized she didn’t want that for herself.

She stopped taking cases to devote herself to turning her hobby into CocoVaa Chocolate. She still takes a few cases but she says she’s being more selfish with her time as she develops her business.

Making chocolate is hard work. Edari says it seems really romantic but that it is literally backbreaking work. But it’s work that inspires her. 

“The chocolate is my refuge and I own it,” says Edari.


Erika Janik

Erika Janik

Erika Janik is the co-creator and former executive director of Wisconsin Life. She is the author of six books, including Pistols and Petticoats: 175 Years of Lady Detectives in Fact and Fiction, Apple: A Global History, and  Marketplace of the Marvelous: The Strange Origins of Modern Medicine. She’s currently the executive...
2018-02-10T23:12:15-06:00Tags: , , |

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