April 18, 2019

Pit Stop: Empire’s Grocer’s Daughter

By Ross Boissoneau | July 28, 2018

Bright green building façade? Check. Delectable chocolates, incorporating everything from lavender to liquor? Check. More visibility and more space? Check and check.

Looks like everything is set for a bigger summer than ever at Grocer’s Daughter Chocolates in Empire. Owners Jody and DC Hayden have successfully moved from their location south of Empire to a spot across from the Village Inn next to the hardware store.

And yes, the building is the same familiar bright (some might say bilious) shade of green. “People have come to like it. It stands out,” said DC. He likens it to a food truck he’s seen around the area that’s painted bright pink. “Why not have more bright pops of color?” he asked.

Color aside, it’s the chocolates that attract people to the store. Hayden said that’s been the case since Mimi Wheeler opened the store a decade and a half ago. Incorporating unexpected flavors of spices and herbs into the chocolate gave the candies a distinct identity.

“The business started with herbal chocolates, like rosemary, basil, and lavender. Those continue to be some of the best-sellers. It’s fresh and pops through the chocolate in a fun way.”

Another favorite, especially in the summer, are Grocer’s Daughter’s own fudgsicles, similarly enhanced with unexpected flavor pairings like ginger or hazelnut. Now, with the room to showcase them in a freezer next to the register, they’re more popular than ever. And that’s good and bad, according to Hayden. “In the new spot we fill [the freezer with fudgsicles] in the morning, and before the end of the day we’ve run out. It’s incredible,” he said.

Hayden said there have been some hiccups along the way, like trying to remember where everything from spoons to trays to ingredients are in the new facility. “We were used to where things were before, and we’re still getting used to this space,” he said.

While it’s not that much bigger — the new store is 1,500 square feet, while the old one was 1,100 — it is much more open. Customers have room to mill about, they can see what goes on in the kitchen, and the large windows in front bring in plenty of daylight. Plus they’ve set up picnic tables alongside the store’s entrance.

The couple has owned the store for five years. Previously, Jody had a background in fair trade coffee, with Higher Grounds Coffee. She left the when the couple moved to Minnesota, and when they moved back, Wheeler was looking to sell the business. Jody was helping her get ready to sell when she and DC decided they were interested in buying it themselves.

While his wife had a background that made for a relatively easy transition, his experience was in video and film.

“I thought Jody would run it,” he said, and he’d occasionally help out a little as needed. Hah. He was soon wholly involved as well, and said his video and photographic background actually helped in terms of putting together displays and designing their brochures and website.

“When we bought it, neither of us knew diddly. It was an education and continues to be,” Hayden said. But with hard work and a good base from the decade that Wheeler had nurtured the store, they were able to make the business grow.

Hayden said one thing that he and Jody are planning to do is offer more customers learning options, as well as be able to interact with them help them understand and hopefully share their passion for chocolate. “We can create more experiences. There will be more educational [opportunities]. Knowing how chocolate works, it takes time and experimentation. It’s so cool — the space fits what we do.”




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