Danielle Muzones


Welcome to Sarap Stories - your space for Asian American representation, inspiration, and insights from real AAPI makers in the Sarap Now marketplace.


Headshot of Madhu Chocolate CEO and co-founder Harshit Gupta
Source: Harshit Gupta

Throughout his childhood in Mumbai, Harshit Gupta found happiness in saving up for Cadbury Fruit & Nut bars. He savored each creamy square one at a time, allowing them to fully melt in his mouth and vanish before enjoying the next.

Now the CEO and co-founder of Madhu Chocolate, his brand of award-winning, Indian-inspired chocolates, Harshit gets to experience that same joy every day.

He wasn’t always on an entrepreneurial path. What began as a pursuit of a master’s degree in computer engineering at the University of Florida became a journey of self-discovery, finding pride in his identity, and falling in love with his husband and co-founder, Elliott Curelop.

Read on to find out why and how Harshit stopped going by his nickname “Jimmy,” reclaimed his name, and made a career out of his all-time favorite treat.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Madhu Chocolate bars and tea laid over banana leaves alongside ingredients used in each product, like cacao, cardamom, vanilla bean, fennel, orange blossom, cashew, coconut, pistachios and more.
Source: Harshit Gupta

Tell us about yourself - your name, pronouns, and your brand. Do you identify as AAPI or an immigrant of South Asian heritage?

I'm Harshit Gupta, my pronouns are he/him/his, and I'm the CEO and co-founder of Madhu Chocolate. I am a proud gay man and married to my husband Elliott, who is also the co-founder of Madhu Chocolate. I identify as an immigrant of South Asian heritage. I grew up in India and moved to the U.S. in 2008.


Madhu Chocolate co-founders Harshit Gupta and Elliott Curelop smiling in front of Alaskan mountains on vacation.
Source: Harshit Gupta

What was your experience like growing up in India and immigrating to America?

I grew up in Mumbai and my roots come from Rajasthan, the “state of the kings.” We were a middle-class family and had limited resources, so I grew up with my Mom making food every day for every meal. There was no concept of leftovers – you only made what you needed. Going out to eat was so rare that even McDonald’s was a special treat.

When I was born, my Dad was in the U.S. for work and he’d come back with all these toys like Hot Wheels and Disney characters like Mickey Mouse. Since I was introduced to those things early on and loved hearing about my Dad’s experiences abroad, I always knew I wanted to come to America. And that’s what I did.


A childhood photo of Madhu Chocolate CEO and co-founder Harshit Gupta and his family gathering together in India.
Source: Harshit Gupta

After finishing my bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, I went to the University of Florida to do my master’s in computer engineering. When I moved to Florida in 2008, I realized I had to cook for myself, but I already had a knack for it.

Back in India, my parents saw that I liked to cook and were supportive of that. I learned a lot of cooking principles from my Mom, like how all spices play a role at different steps of cooking – there’s an order and you don’t just throw everything in at the same time.

In Florida, I was a minority. I realized that I didn't want to keep true to who I am. There were a lot of challenges, even with my name.

Here, my name “Harshit” sounds like a swear word, but in India, it’s a very common name with mythological roots, and it means to be happy. But here, it was butchered and I had to deal with it. I still deal with it.

People were afraid to say my name so for a while, they would call me “Jimmy.” I tried to be okay with it, but I eventually began pushing back because I wasn’t doing the right thing for myself. That was not my identity. I'm very proud of my culture.


A photo of Madhu Chocolate CEO and co-founder Harshit Gupta at the University of Florida's football stadium.
Source: Harshit Gupta

Do you remember the first time you felt represented in your career or the chocolate-making world? Tell us about those memories and what they meant to you.

We have one chocolatier here, Delsyia Chocolates. She makes truffles, bonbons, and all that stuff. She was using a mango lassi in one of her seasonal flavors. It was the first time I saw a flavor profile in chocolate that I could relate to. I also remember Elements Truffles, which is by another power couple based in New York. They make Ayurvedic chocolate truffles in the shape of bars.

Seeing chocolates with more Ayurvedic and Indian flavors brings me nostalgia and a feeling that my culture is getting more represented. Slowly and steadily, but it's getting there. I also feel pure joy. Seeing flavors I connect with and grew up with brings me so much happiness. Especially when you’re 6,000 miles away from your home country.

What inspired you to create Madhu Chocolate? Walk me through what led you to those moments.

We started making chocolate as a hobby in our home kitchen. I love chocolate, and Elliott is a professional food scientist. He had an internship at a chocolate factory before, so already he knew how to make chocolate when we started tinkering around with recipes.

Together, we came up with the idea to introduce Americans to real Indian spices by integrating them into a medium they understand – chocolate! It's a beautiful medium that people love and have had since childhood. We’ve taken that familiarity and are using it to introduce flavors like cardamon, saffron, pistachios, and all that.

Madhu Chocolate is a story of East meets West. We are bringing cultures together through food. We named the company “Madhu” after my Mom. Her name also happens to mean “honey” or “sweet” in Hindi, so it was the perfect fit. It encompasses so many different emotions – the happiness and joy tied to that name and what it represents.


Our signature chocolate, Masala Chai, was inspired by my Mom’s Masala Chai recipe that she made every morning and evening. We wanted to make chocolate with the real Masala Chai spice – not the Starbucks version you see with cinnamon and vanilla. That’s not the chai I grew up with. The one we have has a floral load from cardamom, a little bit of spice from black pepper and cloves, and freshness from ginger. Plus, ginger is good for your stomach. We also do a chai with mint for a nice cooling effect, which is a common combination during the winters in India.

We started testing at the local farmer’s markets to see if people were interested in the concept. There were two options: 1) it hasn’t been tested out in the market and there is a demand, or 2) it’s already been tested and it failed. We wanted to see for ourselves and luckily, people responded really, really well!

Tell me about a challenge you faced to get to where you are today, and how you overcame it.

Elliott has a little bit of a business background, but I have no business background. I'm a software engineer - a stereotypical profession for a South Asian kid. You usually see us becoming doctors, engineers, or lawyers. Going down a more entrepreneurial path came with a lot of challenges. I had never done sales, marketing, or any customer-facing job before.


One challenge that constantly came up was that people would think the chocolates were only meant for Indians. Or, they’d think we’re putting what they believe to be Indian food – like chicken dishes – in the chocolate.

Education was a big part of overcoming this. At the farmer’s market, we’d bring boxes of spices to allow people to see, smell, touch, and taste real Indian spices like saffron and cardamom.

I taught people that saffron is the most expensive spice in the world! They are always surprised to hear that. Then when someone from the Middle East would come by, we would put a huge smile on their face because they’re seeing a part of their culture represented in a new way.


Now, all these publications like Food and Wine are saying that we have the best chocolates and we’re winning all these beautiful awards like the Good Food Award from the Good Food Foundation, which is like the Oscars for food products.

In what ways has being Indian impacted or inspired your journey as a founder?

Being able to help people appreciate Indian flavors has helped me be more and more proud of my heritage. I feel like we created a new path for underrepresented groups to follow, and it gives me joy.

We inspired so many individuals who reached out to us over the years to take a leap and start their businesses. Our story has given that nudge to other entrepreneurs to start something of their own.

It’s also amazing to see people of South Asian backgrounds saying that our chocolate makes them think about home, or it makes them feel like their mom is hugging them. It gives me confidence and validation around what we are doing.

AAPI representation matters. Why does it matter to you? What do you think needs to happen to make more progress with representation?

We all have voices. We all have our cultures. We all have our experiences, and people should be able to share that.

There are so many good things about every culture. There are bad things about every culture. Nothing is perfect, but having new experiences through food and travel is good for the human mind and being more of a well-rounded person.

Representation matters because the generation after us should be able to see that they can be whoever they want to be. To have more representation, we need to end the racial stereotypes tied to specific professions. That needs to change at many levels. Especially in the film industry, because everyone grows up watching movies and TV. Hollywood has so much influence on how different groups are perceived.

Do you have any tips for aspiring AAPI makers who want to start their own businesses?

Write a business plan.

People don’t want to hear it, but I tell everyone, if you want to succeed in entrepreneurship, the first thing you should do is sit down and write a business plan. It might be the most boring thing for most people, but businesses tend to take way more effort than you think. You have to keep your emotions out of it and be practical. That’s where a business plan comes in. It shows you what’s achievable.

Be ready to pivot.

If you have to pivot, pivot fast. Fail fast. If you see instant feedback on something and it doesn’t work, pivot to something else. Don't keep on making the same mistake and assume that one day it'll succeed. You’ll waste your time that way. You need to take your emotions out of those decisions to pivot and have a thick skin for criticism. 

One of the most crucial pivots we did was at the start of COVID. Before March 2020, we were selling wholesale to stores around Austin and the airport. Once lockdown hit, within one to two nights, everything collapsed. All of our wholesale accounts were wiped out and the only way we could get business back our way was by going direct-to-consumer through e-commerce. 

At the time, we had a rudimentary website that I had coded myself, which we flipped within one week. We made new content, photos, accessibility features, and social media channels. Luckily we quickly gained traction online and survived that “make it or break it” scenario. 

What advice would you give to a younger version of yourself?

To be proud of my identity.

I’m a brown guy. I’m short. I’m much darker skinned than other people in my family, and within Indian culture there’s a lot of racism that still exists around skin color.

I’d get a lot of “You look like the milkman’s son” or that I was adopted. They were jokes so I didn’t let it make me feel bad – it just made me feel different.

I’d tell myself to not let people call me Jimmy. Harshit is my name.

What’s something you love about your culture that you wish more people knew about?

Our way of showing love in India and the South Asian community is through food. We may not use words – we might not say “I love you” - but we show love by caring for one another. Also, in India, people don't like to hear that you are full. They want you to feed you because it means they love you.

What’s your favorite childhood snack?

My favorite childhood snack is Cadbury Fruit & Nut chocolate. Cadbury is a huge thing in India – it came from the U.K. by way of colonization. We didn’t have Hershey’s there. I would buy one bar because it was so expensive and I would take one square and let it melt in my mouth until it was gone. I still remember the happiness I felt in those moments.


Madhu Chocolate makers pouring melted chocolate into bar molds.
Source: Harshit Gupta

What’s next for you? Anything else you’d like to share?

We have big plans for the holidays this year and we’re continuing to grow. You can find our unique and award-winning chocolates on Sarap Now, our website madhuchocolate.com, and in several stores around the U.S.

Check Out Madhu Chocolate in Sarap Now’s Marketplace

Madhu Chocolate Pistachio Chocolate Spread, Masala Chai, Cacao Nibs, and Roasted Almond and Orange Blossom Hot Cocoa Mixes on a kitchen counter alongside a glass of tea, biscuits, dried orange slices, roasted almonds, and a fruit bowl.

Source: Harshit Gupta


Try Madhu Chocolate – one of Food & Wine’s best chocolates in America. Enjoy the award-winning Saffron Milk or fan-favorite Masala Chai, inspired by Harshit’s mother’s recipe.

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