Meet the Maker: Chocolates by Grimaldi
In recent years, gourmet food has been skyrocketing in the gift industry. From sauces and jams to flavor-specific sweets, gastronomy is the new black.
Over in Grand Haven, Michigan, Chocolates by Grimaldi is a fine chocolate factory that works diligently to develop gourmet favorites suitable for all snack bon vivants. Its nine employees create decadent confections using local and Michigan-made ingredients and offer tours so guests have the option to learn about the fascinating chocolate-making process.
Gift Shop spoke with Molli Laham, co-owner of Chocolates by Grimaldi to learn more about their process — and their goodies.
How did Chocolates by Grimaldi get started?
My husband and I wanted to show our two sons how to start and run a business from the ground up, and we wanted to connect and grow within our community. After much research, we chose to open a fine chocolate shop. Chocolate is a very happy product and so many people love it. Whether the economy is up or down, chocolate is one product that makes the day a little better!
Tell us about your range of products.
We have chocolate covered potato chips to caramels and turtles to seasonal flavored decadent truffles. They’re all made with our amazing chocolate that has no artificial ingredients, preservatives and (uses) minimal waxes. We use local ingredients whenever possible and each recipe we create has five ingredients or less.
Are there any ideas you’ve had for items that just didn’t work as you expected? Are there any that you were surprised by their success?
We really haven’t created any that don’t have their own following. Everyone has such different palates so each creation — even the lavender truffles — are favorites to many.
One that has surprised us are our caramels. When we created our recipe, we wanted the butter to be the strongest flavor and then our second goal was that they are soft (but not too soft) and not sticky. It took us many attempts because it wasn’t just about the flavor, but about the cooking process. We have invested into new equipment just to keep up with the demand.
Can you walk us through the process of developing a new chocolate concept and bringing it to fruition?
We try to create flavors using ingredients that are in season and we always ask our customers from tours, classes and team builders to share their thoughts of what flavors they would like to taste. We have put together a great team of chocolatiers to collaborate on new flavors and confections. Sometimes it is as simple as tasting different ingredients together, (and) sometimes it might be what we thought was a mistake during the cooking process that turns into a new consistency. We are always researching and trying new combinations to keep our lineup new and fresh.
Yes, we have. We knew when we designed the factory that people look for experiences, so we designed the store and factory with an exhibition style layout. Customers would see our chocolatiers creating and our enrober coating potato chips and would have many questions. That brought us to having tours, which are very popular and great for every age. We have huge tour buses that come from all over for tours.
Customers were still looking for more ways to get involved in the chocolate creating process. We then moved into having a Creative Chocolate Class where people can paint, decorate and make a chocolate bar with their own flavor. They have become very popular for families, grandparents and grand kids, best friends, showers and bachelorette parties. They are a great way to make memories with your loved ones!
A little more than a year ago, we also started conducting Team Builders. We close down production and have them right in our factory. The Team Builders are geared more toward businesses. We split the group into teams, give them a theme, time them, and have the chocolatiers ready and waiting for any and all questions to help them create and make a chocolate bar/creation based completely on the assigned theme. The last step of the Team Builder is for each team to share their creation with the group thru a fun presentation, meeting all of the grading requirements. The winning team gets the bragging rights, the hosting company gets to see their employees’ strengths and everyone has their most fun day of work.
What’s your take on the gourmet food industry, especially compared to 10 and 15 years ago?
I feel the gourmet food industry is continually growing and becoming more specialized. Our chocolate has no artificial ingredients or preservatives and we use local ingredients whenever possible. As in every career in this day and age specializing is the way of our world. The more you do one thing the better you become at it. Perfection is the goal!
Chocolate is a very labor-intense product, so as our business continues to grow, we must find more efficient ways to create our chocolates without changing the quality of our final product. Our process has and is continually changing. We have invested in many pieces of equipment, such as a caramel machine that helps us make large batches and helps us keep up with the demand for our caramels. Our 38-foot enrober has helped us tremendously to keep up with the demand for our chocolate-covered potato chips.