At the suggestion of customers, Kalona Chocolates has added several new chocolates as well as updates in the packaging of their products.
The newest items are chocolate covered orange peels and chocolate and coconut almonds clusters, which have been very popular since introducing them early this summer. These too were from a suggestion by a customer.
“We try to be responsive to our customers suggestions,” commented Lyndon Hershberger who owns and operates the business with his wife, Mattie, and with input and help from their daughters: Rebecca, Krista, Kaylee and Whitney.
“We decided to buy the first chocolate recipes from Beth Escher when she closed Columns and Chocolates to develop a business that Mattie could do on a part time basis,” said Lyndon. “And it was a dream of Mattie’s to have a business where we could all work together,” he added.
Mattie started making fudge and chocolate tadpoles in a small kitchen in the basement of her parents, Clarence and Barbara Miller, in February of 2009. “Our first big order was the Kalona Chamber of Commerce when they ordered fudge to sell in the Chamber’s booth at the Iowa State Fair in August of 2009,” Lyndon noted.
Marlene Yoder, who used to make the tadpoles – a caramel, pecan and chocolate confection originally named by Emil Ropp – and fudge when she and Janell Bender owned Country Livin’, invited Mattie over to her kitchen to teach her how to make toffee.
Kalona Chocolates first wholesale customers were Bobby Pfeiffer of Cherry Blossom Boutique, which was located in the space where Kalona Chocolate retail shop is currently. Marilyn Woodin helped to get the chocolates into the Kalona Historical Society’s Visitors Center gift shop. Rhonda Yoder of Kalona Coffee House (which used to be located in the same area as Kalona Chocolates is today) suggested adding coffee to dark chocolate. That is when Mattie developed a recipe of dark chocolates and crushed espresso beans, which she labeled Java Bites. They can be purchased individually or in boxes of 4 or larger.
At the suggestion of Phil Ropp, Mattie developed the popular chocolate covered caramels. Those caramels and the caramels with sea salt are among the most popular items in the store.
Other chocolates available are English Toffee, Peanut Butter Creams, Marshmellows, Double Chocolate Truffles, Mint Truffles, Raspberry Truffles, Orange Truffles, Coconut Truffles, and more to come.
Marilyn Bender helped Kalona Chocolates to get into HyVee, Coralville, as a wholesale customer. They also place their chocolates in Walgreens where the owner of the Birthday Company discovered the product. He came to Kalona looking for the Kalona Chocolates. The Birthday Co. works with financial consults to send birthday cards and a package of chocolates to their clients.
“The Birthday Co. gave us another break when they decided to send out the chocolates using our labels instead of their private labels,” Lyndon noted. “This gave us additional exposure as they display our webpage address and phone number.”
Partially as a need to increase production space because of the Birthday Co. orders, The Hershbergers moved into their present location at 211 5th Street in downtown Kalona in February of 2011.
The Hersberger family continues to have their business driven by ideas from their customers and employees. “We have some really great employees who give us ideas and have suggestions for improving our products and solving any problems we may have,” commented Mattie. One new service they offer is a special tin box for customers to put their chocolate purchases in. When they re-use this special carton, they get a 15% discount. Another item resulting from a customer suggestion is a special thermal bag with an icepack to keep their purchase cool.
Thanks to the community support and development of new products as customers give feedback and ideas, Kalona Chocolates continues to experience controlled growth.
“We are having steady growth year after year,” Lyndon said. “We control our growth as we value freshness and quality of the product. We don’t want to grow so fast that it would sacrifice quality.”
The Kalona Chocolates brochure explains, “We ensure freshness and quality by handcrafting our chocolates in small batches. We stir vibrant flavors into each piece. We never offer a chocolate that doesn’t impress us. Our goal is for each taste to be a special experience. Our chocolates are flavored with tradition from our Amish heritage sprinkled with the small town charm of Kalona. We enrobe everything we do with care…”
Mattie said the current space works fine except during the Christmas (November and December) and the three weeks prior to Valentines Day. “But as we continue to grow we may be needing additional space,” Lyndon added.
“Christmas and Valentines are definitely a stress on the space available for production,” Mattie said.
The owners estimate about 40% of Kalona Chocolate sales are through their retail store, but online and wholesale sales continue to grow.
You can purchase Kalona Chocolate products at Kalona Coffee House, Kalona General Store, Kalona Historical Village Gift Shop, Kalona Creamery, Riverside Casino, Coralville HyVee and a variety of floral and boutiques in Eastern Iowa. The Birthday Company continues to be a significant part of their business.
“As we have grown, we have had to add employees,” Mattie noted. “We are excited about our employees. We appreciate and enjoy their contribution to improving our production.” Lyndon also has been able to quit his job with Miller Milk Moovers and devote fulltime to managing and helping out with the store on a fulltime basis.
Kalona Chocolates employs 1 fulltime and 8 part time non-family workers besides the family members. Although their daughters don’t all work on site, they did help out with ideas and problem solving even remotely. Krista handles the marketing, designing product labels, Facebook page and website. Rebecca keeps track of production records and Kaylee handles bookkeeping.
Besides the chocolates, Kalona Chocolates offers muffins and coffee. You can enjoy relaxing with your coffee in an area in front of the store. There are always samples available and you can watch the chocolate being crafted in our viewing area.
Kalona Chocolate employees put the finishing touches on a batch of caramels with sea salt, one of the more popular items in the retail store.