“I’ve traveled around the world, and I want to give something back. I’m planning to give a percentage of my profits to organizations that help people in East Africa. ”
Jodie O’Kelly
“I’ve traveled around the world, and I want to give something back. I’m planning to give a percentage of my profits to organizations that help people in East Africa. ” Jodie O’Kelly
While Jodie O’Kelly spends mornings and nights making caramels, marshmallows, toffee and other sweet centers for her chocolates, her days are filled with hand-dipping the chocolates in the small kitchen next to her shop.

O’Kelly opened Cocoa Safari Chocolates last week across from the Broadway Fountain to offer tourists and area residents a fun and comfortable place to enjoy hand-dipped chocolates.

“This is not a fine chocolate shop where you have to be careful and quiet when you walk in,” O’Kelly said. “It’s really like an edible toy store. We’ve got high-end and low-end candy for adults and kids. I just want to make people comfortable and happy.”

O’Kelly also wants to use the shop as a window into the rest of the world. Filled with binoculars, safari hats, trunks and travel memorabilia, O’Kelly hopes Cocoa Safari will not only reflect the years she spent traveling around the world but will also encourage others to pack their bags and explore foreign cultures.

As a child, she was a self-proclaimed “Air Force brat,” living in Minnesota and then Japan and moving to the Arizona desert when her father retired. By the time she was 25 years old, she was painfully shy and suffering from depression.

After attending an assertiveness training class, O’Kelly said she changed drastically. Shortly thereafter, she planned a trip to Europe with a friend, and when the friend backed out at the last minute, she went to Europe alone for a month.

“It was the best thing I ever could have done,” she said. “It really got me interested in travel, and I ended up working in a travel store and becoming a travel agent.”

O’Kelly later went on to live in Africa for three months and then Antarctica, where she met her husband, Al.

She decided to go back to school and major in international studies at the University of Oregon. The degree required spending a semester abroad, but because of her extensive travel experience, the school accepted a Habitat for Humanity trip to Malawi in East Africa instead.

It was on this trip that O’Kelly met Liesel Riley, the owner of Chocolate Storybook, a chocolate shop in Des Moines, Iowa.

“We became fast friends,” O’Kelly said. She was so impressed with Riley, O’Kelly decided to see if making chocolates was something she would like to do. So she worked in Riley’s shop, attended candy conventions and shows and eventually started her own shop in Oregon two years ago as a trial run.

“I ran it for five months, but the location just didn’t work out,” O’Kelly said. As she scouted potential locations for her shop, O’Kelly said she was approached again and again by people asking when she would reopen.

O’Kelly eventually decided Madison would be the perfect place to relocate and began working on setting it up. From the chocolate CDs, cigars and roses to the homemade truffles, turtles and coconut haystacks, O’Kelly’s shop provides sweets at all prices and free samples for customers.

Offering special Madison molds, such as one for the Key West Shrimp House, O’Kelly hopes to give tourists a little bit of the town to take home with them. She also plans to have a Web site up and running soon, and once cooler weather sets in, she will begin shipping her chocolates.

“I’ve traveled around the world, and I want to give something back,” she said. “I’m planning to give a percentage of my profits to organizations that help people in East Africa. And I also have Endangered Species chocolates, where the money goes to save these animals. Africa is still in my heart, and I want to help.”

Although she has moved to Madison and set up shop, O’Kelly is still anxious to keep traveling. Only this time, it may be a little closer to home.

She and her husband recently obtained their pilots’ licenses and enjoy flying tail-wheel planes. “I definitely hope to tour around this area by plane if I can,” she said. “I can’t wait to see this part of the country.”