March 3, 2024

Treat Yourself: Local Chocolates, Sweets, and Treats

Get your sugar fix at Grocer’s Daughter and Great Lakes Chocolate & Dessert Co.
By Rachel Pasche | Dec. 10, 2022

For many of us, chocolate is a source of comfort, a rich and decadent flavor that somehow seems to make any moment just that much sweeter. For others, however, it’s a lifestyle. Artisan bean-to-bar chocolate is making a name for itself in northern Michigan thanks to two local chocolatiers who are taking great care to source and create chocolate that’s full of complexity and depth you won’t find elsewhere.

Grocer’s Daughter

Jody Hayden didn’t start her foray into the realm of artisan foods with chocolate, but with coffee. She co-founded the much-loved Higher Grounds, using her background in social justice to ensure she sourced her coffee beans ethically from small farms where she would get to know the people growing the plants.

When she bought Grocer’s Daughter from the founder, Mimi Wheeler, she brought that same passion for mindful sourcing to the chocolate-making process, and the care put into the bars is clear. Hayden works closely with the family in Ecuador growing the cacao she uses to make the chocolate, telling Northern Express, “We were the first customer for Jenny in Ecuador, and we funded her inventory to create chocolate. Now she sells to other chocolatiers! We want to leave more knowledge and profit at origin.”

When Grocer’s Daughter initially opened, Wheeler sold exclusively dark chocolate and built a “huge following of chocolate lovers” in both the local community and in other places in the world. Today, their offerings and their following has only grown.

“The local community is really supportive,” Hayden says, “but we also get a ton of online orders from people who tried our chocolate while they were visiting and crave that bean-to-bar chocolate you just can’t find in most places.”

Some of the online orders, Hayden says with a laugh, come from college students who worked at Grocer’s Daughter during the summer months and get a hankering for that one-of-a-kind quality they grew accustomed to during their employment.

The chocolate made at Grocer’s Daughter comes in many forms: chocolate bars, bark, and truffles; drinking chocolate; chocolate hazelnut and sunbutter spreads; and dairy-free chocolates; plus a huge assortment of chocolate-covered offerings including cherries, ginger, cacao nibs, and nuts. Hayden’s personal favorites include the dark chocolate tasting bundle, the Dianne Bar, or the rosemary truffle, which uses rosemary from their garden. Some of the top sellers include bonbons, sea salt caramels, and honey truffles.

As one might expect, it’s rare for Hayden to go a day without trying some of the chocolate. “There’s so much complexity in chocolate that is just now being explored,” she says. She’s currently working with a panel to create a flavor map of the world for cacao, mapping out which regions produce what types of flavors.

Hayden runs the business with her husband, DC, who has a background in film and manages all of the photography for the business. He also is responsible for creating the divine gelato they make using local cream and ingredients, which they sell from their brick-and-mortar location in Empire.

You can stop in to check out their shop at 11590 S Lacore St, in Empire, or find their fabulous creations in local stores and shops. You can also shop online at grocersdaughter.com.

Great Lakes Chocolate & Dessert Co.

Dave and Shana Sicotte opened Great Lakes Chocolate and Dessert Company in August of 2021, hoping to fill a void in the Traverse City market for top-notch desserts and chocolate. They met at the Culinary Institute of America, working as chefs in their communities over the years before deciding to start something of their own. Dave has a bachelors of baking and pastry arts management, while Shana holds a degree in culinary arts management. Together, they make the perfect pair to spearhead their new venture.

Their passion for making their products from-scratch and in-house is evident in the quality of the chocolate. Shana tells Northern Express, “Every aspect of the chocolate making process is done in-house and can be seen through a window in our chocolate shop. Each bean holds a unique flavor profile, and it’s our job to really highlight those beauties individually.”

They source their beans from around the world using direct trade processes, which offers a “better experience with flavor but also caring for the people behind the cacao tree,” something that is important to them when sourcing for bean-to-bar chocolate. The beans then travel to Traverse City, where Shana and Dave sort, roast, crack, winnow, and ground them into small batches. From there, the grounds are transformed into the phenomenal hand-crafted desserts and chocolates they sell.

Great Lakes Chocolate and Dessert Co. has recently moved into a larger production facility to meet the increasing demand for their delicious delicacies. They offer an array of decadent truffles, delicately crafted bonbons, chocolate bars and barks, and chocolate concoctions of a huge variety. You’ll also find teas, covered cherries and almonds, and cocoa (perfect for the upcoming winter nights!), plus the entire selection of their fine desserts, which look positively indulgent.

Their signature dessert is called Life by Chocolate. “We love this one because it features three different chocolates that we create in-house and several textured layers in every bite,” Shana says. “Dark chocolate flourless cake, dark chocolate ganache, white chocolate panna cotta, milk chocolate mousse, and chocolate glaze” all work in sweet harmony.

They find there’s a mixture of tourists and locals frequenting their shop, as “everyone loves chocolate!” They especially thrive around holidays, with Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day being some of their busier times.

As the cold weather encroaches on residents of northern Michigan, Dave and Shana recommend people stop in for “a cup of rich, decadent hot cocoa or a yummy mocha with house-made chocolate ganache and local espresso from Mundos Roasting Co.”

The pair acknowledges that they probably consume more chocolate than many, but they find they enjoy it most not taste-testing in the shop, but “in the evenings with a glass of wine or when moments that strike for the need of chocolate—you all know how that feels.”

You can stop in to pick up some chocolate at their location at 819 S Garfield Ave in Traverse City, find it in local stores around the area, or check out their online offerings at greatlakeschocolate.co.

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