Building a Chocolate Empire
July 12, 2012
|A family of chocolatiers: Christina Abel, Dan Abel Jr. ’08, Rosalie Abel, Dan Abel Sr.|
It’s been 31 years since Dan Abel’s ’08 father opened his first St. Louis chocolate shop, where a focus on gourmet ingredients and old-world techniques helped him deliver on his motto, “A Smile in Every Box.” Abel can remember working inside the Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Company’s candy kitchen from as young as six years old. “I loved working with chocolate and learned at a young age that the chocolate business is a very happy, easygoing one,” he recalled. “I don’t know the exact date, but as far as I can remember, I wanted to join the family business.”
After graduating from Rollins, that’s exactly what he did. These days, he holds the title of vice president, and along with his siblings and parents, will embark on the company’s largest-ever expansion into a 30,000-square-foot manufacturing facility. “The new plant has been our ultimate dream,” said Abel, who planned the new facility to be as green as possible, including solar panels on the roof to power approximately 15 percent of the plant.
What do you love about the chocolate business?
What is not to love?! I love waiting on customers in our retail stores. They're always happy when they come in because they’re about to buy chocolates. Most people buy chocolates for happy occasions, such as birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas, etc.
My passion is working in our candy kitchen, and if I am not in my office, I am usually making my rounds in the factory and I usually end up in the kitchen. Our team of candy makers has over 100 years of combined confectionery experience, a standard we have created and is unmatched in the industry. The talent working together is amazing to observe.
How has social media impacted your business?
We have welcomed social media with open arms. I think it is a great way to communicate with our customers and share new product announcements, promotions, events, etc. We can post pictures and videos of our candy makers in the candy kitchen to give our customers a sneak peak of what is going on behind the scenes. It has also helped us connect to a younger demographic.
|A franchise location in Saint Charles, Missouri
How have you helped grow the business?
As vice president, I tend to move around a lot in the company and oversee different operations; however, my primary job is to oversee our entire manufacturing operations. This year marks our largest company expansion with our new 30,000-square-foot facility, opening August 20. It will be our new corporate headquarters, warehouse and distribution center; manufacturing facility; the ninth retail outlet store; and a tourism center for the entire company.
We also own and operate three different chocolate companies and have silent equity interest in other chocolate firms across the country, so keeping brands and product lines straight is very important in our manufacturing facility.
In addition to the manufacturing side, I maintain our social media, website, product catalog, photography, packaging design, and retail store design. I am on the merchandising team and was a key member of the development of our gourmet wholesale division, which is becoming the backbone of the entire organization.
Several years ago, a high-end grocery store chain in St. Louis approached us about carrying our product line in their grocery stores. With its continued success, I developed a team to create an entire packaged, bulk, seasonal, and private label product line of our gourmet chocolates that now have a national presence. We exhibit at trade shows two to three times a year, have a complete wholesale catalog, and have created a network of sales brokers nationwide, covering 22 states. We plan to have a broker network across 48 states by the end of the year.
What has it been like watching your father grow Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Company for more than three decades?
When my dad opened up shop in 1981, interest rates were above 20 percent. He worked open to close at his original store after apprenticing as a candy maker for several years. His original store, which is still in operation today on the famous Route 66, was a small retail store with a candy kitchen in the back where you could see through the windows of the retail store. He apprenticed for a large candy company in the late 1970s, so he had some sense of what it was like to run a large chocolate company, but it has definitely been a tough journey getting to where we are now. Everyone knows that it was his hard work, especially in the beginning, that brought us to where we are today. I am happy that I was there to experience every aspect of the business so I, too, could learn how to grow the business.
What’s your favorite chocolate?
I have been obsessed with our new all natural, International Truffles since we created the line in 2011. There are currently nine flavors, including Fresh Raspberry, Italian Espresso, California Pistachio, German Chocolate, Southern Grasshopper, French Vanilla, Swiss Chocolate, Carrot Cake, and Euro Extra Dark. The Euro Extra Dark, a 70 percent cocoa dark chocolate truffle, and the German Chocolate Cake truffles are two of my favorites. But I like everything we make, and my favorites change all the time.
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