An error in her French comprehension meant that when Kelli and Patrick Marjolet first met online in 1997, she thought he was a gay woman. The Chicago woman was looking to improve her French, and got chatting to Frenchman Patrick in a language chatroom.
"His screen name ended in 'e' and I presumed it was feminine," says Kelli, then 20. "He said his heart had been broken by a girl so then I thought I was talking to a lesbian. We clarified he was a man and he sent me a photo. I thought I had to 'friendzone' him because he was out of my league."
They wrote back and forth, purely as friends, but their first phone call was a disaster as Patrick's English was as bad as Kelli's French, When she graduated in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison two years later, her dad, Jim Hader, gave her a trip to Europe as a present. She decided to go to Rennes to hang out with her pal Patrick, who was studying maths at university there.
"Patrick picked my friend and me up from the train station and was carrying the saddest-looking baguette, which was so cliche," she laughs. "I was dating someone else - another French guy - and my plan was actually to set Patrick up with my friend."
Patrick, 40, is from Brittany and comes third of Gilles and Elisabeth's four children. As soon as he saw Kelli, he liked her. "She had this white shirt on, beautiful blue eyes and the perfect figure," he recalls. "Kelli was always smiling and there was, and is, something so vibrant about her. She brings balance to my craziness."
They hung out for a few weeks, and Patrick brought Kelli to Ireland as he had visited previously and really loved it. Alas she wasn't as impressed with the country as her thoughts lay in France, but she found that she was interested in him.
She went back to Chicago, planning to move to Paris and the firm she worked at happened to offer her a job at their branch there. Both her boyfriend and Patrick were living in Paris, but her relationship with the other guy ended after a while. She began dating Patrick in April 2001. "He showed me such compassion and taught me what unconditional love was," says Kelli, now 39. "I think I won the lottery when I met him."
Patrick then got a job in IT in Los Angeles. They moved over for 18 months and Kelli got a marketing job. They got married in Beverly Hills in 2003, with one witness present... "I was in work that morning and bought the dress en route," Kelli recalls. "We went to Catalina Island for our honeymoon. Patrick lost his wedding ring while we were snorkelling, three days after we got married."
The Marjolets then moved to Wisconsin and Paris and came to Ireland for four years as Kelli had warmed to it somewhat. Then they had a four-year stint in San Francisco. "We went to Chicago to visit my family for Christmas, and my stepmum Maxine asked me where I felt home was?" says Kelli, who has two older brothers. "I didn't know, but then on the plane to visit Dublin, Ireland came into view and I started bawling. I'm not an emotional person but I was thinking about seeing our friends and walking down the streets in the cold, and I just felt we belonged here. I went on a quiet campaign as soon as we got home to move back to Dublin. We came back in 2014 and are staying here forever because I love it."
Kelli and Patrick have begun a very exciting adventure making chocolate now, and it all started when someone gave Kelli a bag of roasted cocoa beans in SF. Patrick decided to see if he could make chocolate from them, and really enjoyed the process. He began experimenting, adding different ingredients and hosting tasting parties along the way.
He was working on developing Failte Ireland's website at the time, and got such a great reaction, he and Kelli got serious about it and set up The Proper Chocolate Company in May. Patrick made the chocolate and Kelli did the design and branding work, and they now work out of a kitchen in Glasnevin. They sell the bars and hot chocolate at two markets every Saturday, Honest2Goodness in Glasnevin and Green Door in Newmarket. They are also in six retailers.
"We actually import the beans and do the entire process ourselves," Patrick explains. "It has a deeper flavour than the classic dark chocolate and we don't put any additives in it. The Irish palate has come a long way in recent years, and we feel we can bring something that people will really like. The reaction has been wildly good so far - better than we could have imagined."
Kelli and Patrick recently stepped out of their respective careers to focus full-time on the chocolate. They have eight bars, ranging from the 58pc cocoa Ghana Milk Chocolate and Hazelnut bar to the 75pc Dominican Republic Hispaniola. They live in Rathmines with their cat Stout, a stray they adopted in San Francisco.
Was having a family on the cards for them? "Maybe briefly," Kelli replies. "We were just always on the go, and if it had happened, it would have been perfectly fine but it is fine without it too. I don't think Patrick and I have ever been closer than we are right now. We know our sensitive spots and when to give each other space, and have so much respect for one another. We're also the least dramatic people we know."