Willie Wonka would feel right at home at the Alpine Chocalat Haus; in
fact, a video of the popular kids film is playing on a TV in the
sales room at the business in downtown Gaylord.
And upstairs, theres a full-scale chocolate factory, pumping out
hundreds of Easter bunnies, chocolate-covered potato chips, and oodles
of other candies. Its this veritable candyland of treats that earned
the business the honor of Best Place for Chocolate from Express
readers this year.
We have 22 varieties of Easter bunnies and make thousands of them
each year, says owner Bruce Brown, indicating a tray of 450 chocolate
rabbits, poised for their marching orders. Although these 12 oz.
rabbits are the businesses best seller, the Chocolat Haus offers
varieties ranging from 2 oz. bite-sizes to a whopping 20 lb. hollow
bunny that runs $120.
But the biggest seller for the store is its chocolate-covered potato
chips which come off a conveyor belt in a steady stream, ready to be
whisked downstairs for an easy sale. And dont cry over broken chips
because theyre used to make elk droppings of potato chip patties
drizzled with chocolate, finding a home on the shelves amid turtles,
bear claws and cream-filled candies.
Brown, 53, has a big-hearted, friendly ambiance and you cant help but
smile and feel uplifted by his enthusiasm. At a time when most of the
state is on the ropes economically, his chocolate factory and shop are
employing up to 30 people -- sometimes with the need to add a second
shift. We find him engaged in an earnest, knowledgeable discussion on
the merits of various forms of chocolate with several customers who
leave with a bagful of purchases, and of course, big smiles.
A former manager of a Woolworths store, Brown moved to Gaylord from
Sault Ste. Marie in 1985 to try his hand at the candy business when a
shop on Main Street was offered for sale.
At that time we werent making our own chocolate, but I met a lady
who taught me everything about the business, he recalls. His first
kitchen measured only 8-by-8 feet, but today his chocolate production
facility takes up 1,700 square feet above the store below.
The operation also makes an awesome caramel corn that Brown says
rivals that of even such notables as the world-famous Garretts
popcorn shop in Chicago. Our caramel is nice and soft -- it doesnt
pull your fillings out, he says. Ill put our caramel corn up
against anyones in the world.
Believe it. The Chocolat Haus also has its own signature candy bar,
complete with its own logo. And judging by its modest storefront,
youd never guess that the business had such an astounding assortment
of treats in the sales room just beyond its front door.
We probably go through 70,000 to 80,000 pounds of chocolate each
year, with our biggest seasons being Christmas and Easter.
The Alpine Chocolat Haus is located at 208 W. Main Street, Gaylord.
See www.alpinechocolathaus.com for info. -- by Robert Downes
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