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Jack Mitchell is living the sweet life in retirement. Literally.
After a 32-year Pfizer career in sales, Jack retired in 1999. Since then, he and his wife Irmagard have been busy entrepreneurs. They’ve parlayed Jack’s sales expertise and passion for launching new products into a successful grape vineyard in California and, most recently, one of Hawaii’s most popular chocolate shops.
Finding a Home with Pfizer
Prior to joining Pfizer, Jack sold special edition academic and scholastic books for Dell Publishing, starting in 1963. He sold to college faculties in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, covering an extensive territory that extended from central California to the Canadian border. “After blowing one car transmission after another covering this territory, I decided it was time to make a job change,” says Jack.
Little did he know the change he made would result in a three-decade career with Pfizer.
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Jack was familiar with Pfizer through friends whose parents worked at the company’s Brooklyn facility in the past. He didn’t hesitate to reply to an ad for a sales position with the company’s Roerig Division in 1967. He was hired as a sales representative in the San Francisco Bay area and sold tranquilizer and respiratory products.
As district psychiatry representative in the San Francisco Bay area in 1974, Jack contributed to the successful launch of several antipsychotic and urology medicines. Through the end of his tenure with Pfizer in 1999, Jack held other sales positions and helped launch some of the company’s most successful products. Two of the most iconic were Viagra® and Geopen™, the latter representing an important breakthrough in the treatment of life-threatening infections.
When asked about what he thought was the most exciting aspect of his sales career with Pfizer, Jack says, “Hands down, it was helping to introduce new products that I knew would help people, and then watching the medical community accept and start to prescribe those products.”
A Sweet Transition
In 1993, Jack and Irmagard began to think seriously about life after Pfizer. At the time they lived a stone’s throw from California’s Napa Valley, which is dotted with more than 400 wineries and is famous for its prized Cabernet Sauvignon. That proximity wetted their interest in viticulture—a branch of horticulture that deals with the cultivation and harvesting of grapes. They enrolled in Napa Valley College to learn about grape growing, wine making and cellar management.
“The education was invaluable because when we finally decided to take the plunge, we made very few mistakes,” says Jack.
They acquired real estate in “the Valley” and moved from their home in Marin County, California to a new home near the vineyard. After some work to make the soil ready for use, the vineyard was ready to roll at about the time Jack was ready to retire, and it quickly became the source of grapes for some high-end wineries in the area. “It was exciting to launch a new business and achieve so much success in a short period of time—it absolutely exceeded our expectations,” says Jack.
The Sweet Taste of Success—Again
The vineyard proved so successful that in 2007 Jack and Irmagard received an “offer they couldn’t refuse.” They sold the vineyard and decided the next phase of Jack’s retirement would unfold in Hawaii.
About two years after they moved to the island of Kauai, the farming itch struck again. They purchased six-acres of land to grow cacao—pronounced ka-cow—the main ingredient in highly sought-after Hawaiian chocolate. “The idea was Irmgard’s and she has been steering this ship with help from me,” says Jack.
Taking advantage of Irmgard’s passion, her newly acquired chocolatier certification, and Jack’s sales background, they opened a retail shop in the town of Hanalei. Located on Kauai’s north shore and called Chocolat Hanalei, the shop offers over 20 hand crafted products and has been wildly successful.
Jack and Irmgard’s two granddaughters and their families help run the chocolate shop—and the couple is also blessed with two great granddaughters.