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Rebecca Ankenbrand


Like lots of American kids, Rebecca Ankenbrand grew up eating and making her fair share of chocolate chip cookies.

There was just something so warm and comforting about the melted chocolate chips, and Rebecca figured out early on that she was a young chocolate-addict.

These days, Rebecca’s love of chocolate has only intensified. But this time when she reaches for a bag of chocolate, it’s not the store-bought variety – it’s her own concoction.

Over the past few years Rebecca has trained herself in the art of bean-to-bar chocolate making. She buys her own cacao beans, roasts them, grinds the cacao and mixes up her own form of chocolate magic.

As the chocolate maker at Sweet Minou, located inside of Cultiva Labs on 25th and Randolph streets, Rebecca’s days are filled with the noise of grinding beans, spinning bowls of tempered chocolate and the rich aroma of chocolate. 

But Rebecca doesn’t just love the taste of chocolate, she’s fascinated by the wide variety of cacao beans from around the world.

During high school, Rebecca said she transitioned from her beloved milk chocolate to dark chocolate. She started reading articles about the health benefits of dark chocolate, researching how it’s grown and processed and how beans from different countries vary in flavor.

Some cacao beans have an almost fruity taste, and others are more fermented and earthy. While it didn’t take much, if any, training for Rebecca to love chocolate, she has since trained her palette to know where the cacao beans are grown when she tastes chocolate.

Her research opened up a whole new world of chocolate. Soon, she was buying the most unique chocolate wherever she could – online, on family trips or at speciality stores. When her mom asked her what she wanted for Christmas one year, Rebecca sent her to an online chocolate retailer.

Over time chocolate became Rebecca’s hobby instead of just her favorite treat.

In college, Rebecca studied English and French before studying abroad in France. She was shocked to see that every small town she visited in France had its own chocolate shop and chocolate culture. Rebecca took specific side trips to various regions where she could learn more about chocolate making and taste confections from around the world.

When she got back from her trip she worked toward her Master’s degree in French, but also started experimenting with chocolate on the side. She’d bring in treats to her classmates and family members and they all said the same thing – “Learning French is great, but maybe you should make a career out of chocolate…”

She tucked that thought away while she finished her Master’s degree and tried to figure out what she wanted to do next. Rebecca knew she wasn’t interested in teaching and she wasn’t ready to get a PhD, so she decided some kitchen experience might help her with chocolate making.

She started working at Cultiva, chopping and prepping food for its high volume of customers and she really enjoyed the experience. Eventually the owners of Cultiva found out that Rebecca was making chocolate in her spare time and asked her if there was some way they could incorporate her chocolate into the shop. So, in December 2015, Rebecca  and the Cultiva owners officially launched Sweet Minou.

It’s been a great collaboration, Rebecca said, because Cultiva is obsessed with great coffee in the same way that she’s obsessed with chocolate. She said it feels pretty great to call herself a full-time chocolate maker, and her hope is that this is just the beginning.

Rebecca laughed a little when she thought about her high school self being obsessed with buying and tasting chocolate. It seems a little silly, she said, and yet also completely normal.

Rebecca makes chocolate because in some way she feels like that’s what she’s supposed to be doing. It’s her way of supporting ethically sourced materials, creating a unique product and establishing her own chocolate culture in Lincoln, Nebraska.

When she tells people she’s a bean-to-bar chocolate maker they often give her a funny look because it’s not a ‘typical’ job, but that’s yet another thing Rebecca loves about her work.

Her story is about moving toward her passion, learning and taking risks. She has carved out a place for herself in the world of chocolate and she’s determined stay in her sweet spot.

Lawrence De Villiers


The son of a notable French politician, a member of the aristocratic De Villiers family, a comedian and a chef – Laurent De Villiers has been all of these things, and now he’s a Nebraskan.

These days Laurent goes by Lawrence, but that doesn’t mean he’s forsaken his heritage. He’s French through and through. You can tell by his accent, his general mannerisms and the fact that he owns The Normandy, a local French bistro.

His story is complicated. It spans continents and is marked by periods of rebellion, confusion, joy and renewal.

But Lawrence says his story really started went he met his wife, Renee.

The two met when Lawrence was doing volunteer work with a Catholic Franciscan order in the Bronx. Renee was working at a local shelter and the two quickly became friends. They were from very different backgrounds – Lawrence grew up in a high-brow, political family, Renee grew up in the small, laid-back town of McCool Junction.

After they started dating, Lawrence and Renee moved to Paris for a year before coming back to Nebraska and settling in Lincoln.

It was around this time that Lawrence noticed the lack of French cuisine in Lincoln. He craved it and realized the only place he could find it was in his own kitchen. So, he started small. He opened up a booth at the farmer’s market where he sold crepes and pastries and then started catering authentic French meals to his more eager customers.

Lawrence knew that he needed a full-scale restaurant, and Renee encouraged him to keep exploring this idea.

So, after a short stint in the Railyard’s Public Market, Lawrence bought a former bar and grill at the corner of 17th and Van Dorn streets and transformed it into his French bistro.

“It looked nothing like this when we moved in,” Lawrence said, looking around at his manicured dining room. “But it also took time.”

He was patient when it came to growing his business. He started with authentically French food that he catered to the palettes of Nebraskans and his atmosphere followed suite. In France, he said, you find a lot of small mom and pop shops that serve amazing food and that’s what he wanted to create in Lincoln.

He knew it didn’t need to be complicated, but it needed to be done right and that’s what he did.

Having a local restaurant in Lincoln is hard, it takes time, resources and lots of patience, but Lawrence does it for his family. He and his wife now have three daughters, and carving out a place for his restaurant and his family have become a major part of his story.

It’s a story he didn’t anticipate being his own, mostly, because it’s the opposite of so much of his early life.

Lawrence’s childhood was full of expectations. His family was wealthy and well-known and they hope he’d follow the same path, but early on Lawrence knew that wasn’t what he wanted.

He wanted to start something, run his own business, make and earn his own money – he wanted to be free of his family’s expectations. This search for freedom, along with marrying his wife are what led Lawrence to Lincoln.

It’s a place that’s vastly different from France, but also so different from his elite childhood. Lincoln has quickly become his home, and a chapter in his story that he’s proud to share with his customers.

“We’re not rich, but we’re making it,” he said. “I couldn’t find a better place to raise my children, for my marriage, for my relationships with people – we’re very blessed here.”

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