NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – Growing up in New Providence in an Italian family, Tad Lombardo enjoyed food and cooking from the time he was young.
The 1984 graduate of New Providence High School studied engineering at Penn State and received a Bachelor's of Science in the subject. While at college, he worked at a catering company in Bernardsville and eventually managed parts of the company, falling in love with food. He dreamed of working in the food industry but his engineering career was his priority--until recently.
In the intervening 20-plus years, Lombardo worked in the engineering field, exceling in risk management consulting. In 1996, he received a job transfer to Australia but managed to keep strong ties with his family in New Providence. In 2000, the joint venture on which he was working unwound. He soon found a job in Australia with a New Jersey-based risk management and consulting firm. As the years progressed, he grew tired of “the corporate thing” and “living by other people’s rules.”
Lombardo began to think about his lifelong dream and decided to work in the food industry. But where and how? He debated between opening a café or restaurant or starting a catering company. He received a gift certificate to take a master pastry class and it changed his life. He became obsessed with chocolate, taking courses and finding that he had natural skill at making chocolate.
He began to train and experiment with chocolate, moonlighting while he worked in risk management consulting during the day. His engineering problem solving skills came in handy and made the transformation to becoming a chocolatier relatively quick.
In February 2010, he visited Attica restaurant in Australia on Valentine’s Day. It was an up and coming restaurant that had just won a prestigious award. He showed them samples of his chocolate and offered that they could provide a box of chocolate to the couples dining with them at no cost. Ben Sherwy, head chef and owner, loved the idea and the chocolates became a hit at the restaurant. In April 2010, Attica was voted in the top 100 Best Restaurants by San Pellegrino, rocketing the restaurant to fame.
Sherwy and Lombardo decided to work together on a dish to celebrate the award. They created Pukeko, named for a delightful water fowl bird in New Zealand--a nest of radiant chocolate-filled eggs. After three months and 80 tries, they perfected their creation. The Pukeko was provided to guests as a surprise at the end of their dinner. “This was my first foray into a new world,” Lombardo told TAP into New Providence.
He began preparing chocolates in his kitchen in his home for Attica. In October 2010, he left his job to become a chocolatier full-time. He started selling chocolates in an artisan cart in Prahran Market in Australia, one of the foremost food markets in the country. In December 2013, he opened a chocolate shop in the Prahran Market and he soon became the resident chef of the market. He does a cooking show at the market in an open space kitchen and stage.
Lombardo’s chocolates have won rave reviews. In 2012, he was awarded a gold medal for a box of chocolate and won the champion’s trophy at the Royal Melbourne Fine Food Awards.
Lombardo told TAP into New Providence, “This has been an incredible journey on many levels. When I set out to do this I knew it would be hard but didn’t know it would be this hard. It is the most difficult thing I’ve done. There are mental battles and physical battles to overcome on an ongoing basis. At times I just want to quit but I re-energize and get back into it again. “
Lombardo explained that he works 12 to 18 hours a day, seven days a week with no time off until this past week’s vacation to New Jersey. “I do everything. I make the chocolate. I sell it. I organize the ingredients. I market the chocolate,” he said.
His advice to anyone considering a career change is, "Don’t wait. Do it now….it won’t happen unless you create an opportunity for yourself.”
He said his newly found fame is surreal. “It’s strange to have people know who you are and want to know what you are doing.”
As for future plans, Lombardo wants to open a shop in the United States, preferably New Providence, and wants to grow his shop in Melbourne and eventually open others in Australia. “I don’t want to be on every street corner,” he added. “The chocolates will always be handmade. We will not compromise on our quality.
“As hard as it has been, I would do it all again for sure. I wouldn’t do anything differently,” he said. “I definitely want to bring chocolate to the United States, ideally to New Providence,” he concluded as he walked outside the Village Shopping Center eyeing a vacant storefront.
For more information on Tad Lombardo and Cioccolato Lombardo, visit www.cioccolatolombardo.com.