How a Chocolate Factory is Helping Bring Back Graniteville


James Stefanakos and his team create Awww Nuts!, a bar filled with pecans, almonds, cashews and walnuts.Photo by Bach Pham

Stepping into James Stefanakos’ workshop is a sensory experience. The air is gently perfumed by the three types of chocolate churning for the shop’s dozen different chocolate bars. Three machines are constantly buzzing, keeping the chocolate at the right temperature and texture for the next bar that Stefanakos and his two employees hand-make and package each day. On one recent day, both Stefanakos and his employees were hard at work packaging their “Christminty” bar, a dark chocolate, peppermint and candy cane bar they specially make for the season. 

Chocolate has been a long-time passion for Stefanakos. Growing up, his family used to buy chocolate from a local business in Ohio. When his family decided to move away from the town where the chocolate shop was, Stefanakos decided to try making his own for holidays and gifts. The chocolates became so popular among family and friends that he decided to leave his career in engineering and pursue his love of the chocolate craft.

Stefanakos started Agape Chocolates in 2015 and opened a shop in Graniteville, South Carolina.

Graniteville is both the most unlikely and perfect place for the business. A quiet mill town of approximately 2,700 outside of Aiken, Graniteville has been trying to revive ever since a major tragedy shook the area in 2005 when two Norfolk Southern trains collided near the town’s mill. Over 11,500 gallons of chlorine spilled and formed a poisonous gas over the city. Nine died and hundreds suffered injuries from inhaling the chlorine. 

The city faced an economic blow after the incident when the mill closed shortly after due to the impact of the spill. Stores also closed due to lack of business following the job loss. Only recently have new businesses come into the area, providing jobs to those who have remained since the incident. 

“I tell people I may not be a Graniteville person from birth, but I consider it my home,” says Stefanakos. “Even people from surrounding communities think it’s really cool that I decided to start the company here. We try to give to the community in every way we can, using as many other local businesses as possible.”

Six of his bars currently use ingredients from the central Savannah River area. His packaging is done by a small printing business in Aiken. 

Family is personal to Stefanakos, and a major part of each candy bar. The packaging for each flavor has a design drawn by one of his three children, including the age at which they drew the photo. 

Even the company logo has family significance.

“Each little wisp in the ‘A’ is for each one of my children,” says Stefanakos. “I really try and do things that give a nod back to where we live and to my family.” 

Three of his bars, the Maian my Own Business, Xanderrific, and PheBe & H, are plays on his children’s names. Others touch on different aspects of South Carolina, such as the pecan pie bar or the “indigo” bar — a dried blueberry and crackling chocolate bar that pays homage to the indigo industry, which was a major part of South Carolina’s early trade history. 

The theme of giving is a major component of the business. The name Agape — Greek for “selfless love” — represents Stefanakos’ vision for the company. 

“For every bar we sell, we make a donation to the local food bank’s backpack program where the bars are sold,” says Stefanakos. 

“When I was an engineer at the Savannah River Site, I’d go to school on Fridays and have lunch with my oldest daughter. One day I was having lunch with her and I noticed children were taking food off their trays and into their pockets. I got talking to the teacher and found out that that was going to be their dinner that night. They were taking it to go home and eat. It broke my heart knowing there was a child that was going to school with my kid, that was friends with my kid, that wasn’t going to eat.”

The two food banks Agape currently donates to are the Golden Harvest Food Bank, which serves 30 counties in Georgia and South Carolina along the Savannah River, and Harvest Hope Food Bank, which serves the Midlands and various parts of South Carolina. According to the Golden Harvest Food Bank, more than one in five children suffer struggle with hunger in the U.S. The statistic goes up to one in four in Georgia and South Carolina. 

“I decided to take my love of chocolate and my love for children to create a company that fed children,” says Stefanakos. “Being a father of three I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t feed my children. I know there are parents out there trying their best but can’t make ends meet. A child should not be held responsible for things out of their control and they shouldn’t be in a situation where they can’t eat. So that’s why I decided to leave my career as an engineer and go into this business.”

Agape Chocolates

50 Canal St., Suite No. 8, Graniteville, South Carolina

Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Soda City Market, Saturdays 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

Online shop at

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