Proof It's Never Too Late To Pursue Your Calling
Photo: Alessandra Petlin
57, Longmont, Colorado
Thirty years ago, as a single parent struggling to support her son, Nikolas, Robin Autorino soldered circuit boards for 80-foot satellite dishes for the U.S. Navy in Maine, Spain, Guam and Australia. The work was repetitive, the pay meager. But that didn't keep Autorino—a born hostess and believer in the comfort of good food—from inviting single coworkers for Christmas dinner every year. She sent them home with a cheap but charming treat: pretzels dipped in chocolate. "Nikolas made them," she says. "It was a mess, but he loved it, and I knew how happy they were to get a homemade gift." Years passed. Autorino left the navy, met and married a good man, Chris—and went into IT, dutifully building and updating computer servers. It didn't inspire her, but it was a living. Then, in 2005, Autorino took a cooking class and felt a stirring that harked back to those chocolate pretzels. She asked Chris if she should become a chef. "He said, 'You don't have to be a breadwinner. Go do what you want to do.'" So she enrolled at the Culinary School of the Rockies. She interned at a pâtisserie in Avignon, France; fell in love with desserts; then zeroed in on chocolate. In 2011, Autorino opened Robin Chocolates, where the most popular confection is her chocolate caramel fleur de sel. "I want my ganache to be bold," she says. "I want the Key lime pie truffle to give you some pucker. I want the espresso to bring you the same comfort as your morning cup." Autorino traces her sweet trajectory back to life as a single mom: "All those hours doing things I didn't love, all those years scraping by—it was all worth it. It gave me the life, the passion, I have now."