TAMPA — Desolate days in Iraq stirred his thoughts and dreams.
Between the sandstorms and endless stretches of brown terrain, Archie Bourne thought of her.
His wife, Jodie, back home in Hillsborough County, worked 70- and 80-hour weeks.
Her stressed phone calls got him thinking.
"When I came home, I wanted our time," Bourne said. "I wanted to do something for her, to take care of her."
During free time, the 39-year-old scoured the Internet and looked through magazines for small-business opportunities.
"You dream big over there," he said. "The military allows you to make more goals in life because you are always being pushed."
Bourne returned from his yearlong tour in September, after working in the Army's 317th Military Police Battalion. He already had a diverse resume, including stints as a firefighter in Michigan, the owner of a fire safety company in Ohio and an insurance salesman locally.
Soon, he found a business for sale, although it was definitely new territory.
"I didn't know I wanted to get into chocolate until I walked into the store. That's when everything changed. Just the aroma. I knew. We both knew," he said.
By January, he and Jodie were franchise owners of Schakolad Chocolate Factory at 408 S Howard Ave., turning his ambition of entrepreneurship into reality. "It was ours now," he said.
The shop specializes in various treats, such as champagne truffles, cayenne pepper dark chocolate and key lime white chocolates. First, the soldier-turned-chocolatier learned the ropes: tempering chocolate, molding with a spatula, dipping, a detailed cooking process. One mistake could ruin an entire batch.
Just 15 days after acquiring the business, the Bournes and their two employees entered the Festival of Chocolate at the Museum of Science and Industry. They brought home first prize for best truffle.
"It was like someone from above was looking out for us and making sure we did well," he said.
Despite missing him during his deployment, Jodie, 37, appreciated her husband's bravery and devotion, similar to the way she does now.
"To go to Iraq takes a certain type of person. He's a risk taker," Jodie said. "I admire him for taking risks, because I'm not that type of person. He takes me out of my comfort zone."
Like on their first date in 2007 when Bourne asked her whether he should get back into the military, having already served in the Gulf War.
"I knew better than to answer that question — that's a life-changing decision," Jodie said. "But he must've loved me then, because he wanted to know."
The couple, who live in Ruskin and will have been married for three years in March, await the blossoming of their new venture.
"It's just like having a baby," said Bourne, who has a daughter from a previous relationship.
His business plan: to get a piece of Schakolad chocolate in everyone's mouth. This week, he says, business has picked up with customers for Valentine's Day.
The company has a contract with the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino to create guitar-shaped chocolates, which helps keep business steady. Specialty chocolates and items, including chocolate carpentry tool sets and white and dark chocolate backgammon boards, appeal to Schakolad's niche market.
For now, Jodie continues to work for a juice manufacturer until Schakolad makes enough money for her to join her husband.
"I can't wait to spend all my time with him," she said. "I feel like I need to catch up with the time I didn't get to spend with him last year."
Bourne is anxious, as well.
"Iraq was our sacrifice in order to get where we are at today," he said. "Eventually we will be together, a production girl and a business guy."
Stephanie Bolling can be reached at (813) 226-3408 or firstname.lastname@example.org.