California dreaming: how one man built a gourmet chocolate brand after fleeing war-torn Lebanon

By Anthony Myers

- Last updated on GMT

Guy Debbas and son Max . Pic: Accappella Chocololate
Guy Debbas and son Max . Pic: Accappella Chocololate

Related tags Chocolate Cocoa Confectionery California

Guy Debbas, a Lebanese-American, has spoken to ConfectioneryNews about his incredible story of surviving political assignation in his native country to become a renowned gourmet chocolatier in California.

Debbas has forged a reputation in the United States as one of the most innovative and experienced chocolatiers – but what really makes him stand out from the pack is his incredible story.

About Accappella Chocolate

A’cappella is handcrafted by artisan experts, with every flavourful note of chocolate inspired by a love for music.

Throughout all the turmoil, A’cappella Chocolate​/Debbas Gourmet/Made in Nature has become a national chocolate company creating and distributing various chocolate products under the A’cappella and Debbas Gourmet brands.

The creator of the original hot chocolate bombs, A’cappella uses only the finest cacao beans in addition to premium ingredients. A’cappella and Debbas have been named “Chocolate Trendsetter” and “Innovators, Not Imitators” by Candy Industry, as well as a standout brand by The Dieline.

The 66-year-old Lebanese national has survived political assassination and being taken hostage; experienced religious discrimination; and avoided paralysis from being shot 22 times to build a business while navigating two different countries and cultures.

Rags to riches

His riches-to-rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches experience begins with him planting cocoa seeds in the 1970s in Lebanon for his newly-formed A’cappella chocolate company.

Debbas says his Greek Orthodox family owned plenty of land, a country club, and a large chocolate factory. The affluent family attained social and political prominence when his father, George, was nominated to become president of Lebanon in 1976.  

Political and religious strife in Lebanon led to Guy being taken hostage and tortured before he was rescued. Afterwards, his family’s villa was stormed, and each family member was lined up and shot outside the home - Guy was shot 22 times, he says.

After a miraculous recovery, he emigrated to California, meeting his wife, Wendy, and moving to Fresno, where he earned his agriculture degree from Fresno State.

Learning that his father part-owned a chocolate factory in Lebanon, Guy built a second fortune exporting coffee and honey while importing chocolate from Lebanon to the United States.

Disaster struck again when his new Madera home was destroyed by a fire and the chocolate factory in Lebanon was levelled by terrorists. 

Despite these challenges, Guy never gave up. He started again from scratch, this time in Fresno, turning a 1,000-square-foot retail space into a 15,000-square-foot factory that now produces close to 50,000 pounds of chocolate daily.  

Incredible odds

After overcoming incredible odds during turbulent times, Guy and his son, Max Debbas, now oversee a global chocolate-making business that includes A’cappella Chocolates and Debbas GourmetMade in Nature in Fresno, California.

Debbas has also been hailed as a national leader in the industry. His experience and Max’s leadership have shaped and inspired the quality, aesthetic, and entrepreneurial innovation of A’cappella’s chocolate and innovation.

We put passion into everything we do​,” says Max Debbas.

Life is short, and there is no time for bad chocolate. My father always says, ‘If we can’t make it the best, don’t make it at all.’”

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