Five years ago, Sally and Brian Krichbaum introduced Gilbert Chocolates to the Meridian Mall — a sweet and savory gourmet candy shop with more than a century’s worth of history.
The shop’s original chocolatiers, John and Mary Gilbert, began the company in Findlay, Ohio, in 1893 before moving to Jackson. By 1913, the store was a venerable two-story “factory.” The Gilberts continued to run the business into the ‘60s until finally selling it. Ownership has since traded hands a couple of times, once belonging to the Knapp family and eventually a pair of former employees.
The Krichbaums conceived of owning a candy store after their children had gone off to college. Reality set in and they realized they needed to find something to fill their free time.
“My husband began consulting with the former owner; he made several recommendations on things he should do to improve the business. He said he was ‘too old’ to make those changes and decided to sell the company instead,” Sally Krichbaum said.
Though he and his wife had no prior retail experience, Brian Krichbaum jumped at the opportunity to take the company under his wing.
“We were nervous in the beginning. We spent most of our money, it was a big risk,” she said.
Despite their nerves, they were hopeful that their investment would pay off. Brian, an engineer, had prior experience dealing with bigger businesses, which fueled their desire to $ take a gamble in the candy business.
The Meridian Mall was an ideal space to start the franchise, because the neighboring stores included Zale’s and Ruby Tuesdays, which brought forth a stream of customers.
Within the very first year of opening, the Krichbaums ran into a few problems. Winter brought an ice storm that shut off the store’s electricity for five days.
“The mall was able to generate electricity which was great, but it seems like everything that could possibly go wrong, did,” Sally said.
After pushing through their first winter season, the company has been steadily maintaining the store. A typical day for the Krichbaums is placing orders, putting them together and delivering them to the stores.
“Every day is different,” she said. Since taking over the historic company, the Krichbaums have made sure to keep John Gilbert’s mother’s original recipes, the source for 219 different treats.
Throughout the year, the selection is continuously evolving. New ideas come from employees, as well as customers.
“One year, a few teens were looking for chocolate covered Doritos so we added those. Sales didn’t keep up for very long, so we got rid of them,” Sally laughed.
Rolling into the holiday season, Gilbert Chocolates offers special themed candies. Chocolate pumpkins and suckers are a few sweets that will be sold. Thanksgiving and Christmas will also have exclusive items of their own.
Those bearing a sweet tooth, and other assorted candy addicts, can consult Gilbert Chocolates' membership program, which includes both six month and 12-month versions. Members are able to choose among a monthly pound of chocolate, three goodie bags or a surprise box of assorted candies.
Looking toward the future, the Krichbaums have plans to add a “chocolate loft” to the factory store in Jackson. They envision the loft as a place to throw parties and give customers “the full chocolate experience.”
Gilbert Chocolates Meridian Mall
1982 W. Grand River Ave., Okemos Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, noon to 6 p.m. (517) 507-0001 www.gilbertchocolates.com