Whimsical Novelties Lure Visitors to the Chocolate Factory in Golconda (VIDEO)
While many chocolatiers across Illinois make delicious gourmet chocolates, not every confectionery offers tractors, chainsaws and fishing rods made from creamy milk chocolate. But the Chocolate Factory Inc., near Golconda can make just about any chocolate novelty you can think of for nearly any event.
Nestled in the heart of Shawnee National Forest country, the Chocolate Factory opened in 1977 after Linda Meherg and two friends attended a demonstration on making chocolate.
“The lady giving it mentioned there wasn’t anyone in this area selling chocolate,” Meherg recalls. “We were intrigued by the idea, we thought it sounded like fun and we just jumped in – like three little ding-dongs. We had no idea what we were doing.”
The business grew slowly but steadily, and in 1985 Meherg bought out her partners. In the early years, Meherg did nearly everything herself with the help of one friend. In those days, several companies sold molds for shaping melted chocolate and Meherg bought a few here and there. She focused on those she thought would resonate with her customers – shapes like fish, arrowheads and combines. The novelties were a hit; today, Meherg estimates she has more than 3,000 molds.
“We don’t even remember half of what we have,” she says with a laugh. The Chocolate Factory also offers kits – everything from a chocolate cosmetology set featuring a comb, hairdryer, curlers and mirror, to a fishing tackle box, complete with wire cutters, a knife, bobber and fish, all made of chocolate, and, of course, gummy worms for bait. The kits, which she ships nationwide, are among her bestsellers.
The whimsical gift sets are no joke, however, as Meherg takes her business very seriously. She employs 14 people who use the finest cocoa in making quality chocolate. Meherg sells several tons of chocolate a year via products, such as homemade peanut butter cups, truffles, assorted chocolates by the pound or boxed, fudge and the fan-favorite terrapins, which are made of chocolate, caramel and pecans, and shaped like – what else? – turtles. They also offer sugar-free options.
In the store, incredulous shoppers take photos of the realistic-looking items on display, such as the deviled eggs, which are made of white chocolate but look exactly like the mayo, mustard and vinegar version your mom made for potlucks.
Meherg also makes custom chocolate logos for businesses and organizations. She’s helped several friends and associates start businesses over the years and often lends advice based on her experience. She says her success is based partly on old-fashioned common sense: live and work within your means, don’t take on too much debt, have realistic expectations and work hard.
“You can’t get rich on a chocolate business because the raw ingredients are too expensive,” she says. “And I have never once taken money from the cash register to buy a sandwich or something else I want.”
She says the business didn’t make much money in the early years, but they made enough to pay their bills and enjoyed slow growth. Word of mouth, group tours, visitors to the Shawnee National Forest, and, now, online sales have all helped the Chocolate Factory succeed in an area populated with more trees and deer than people.
Yet chocoholics from Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois have helped make the Chocolate Factory a go-to destination for Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s and Father’s Day, and Halloween goodies and treats. At 77, Meherg is still going strong, working five days a week in the store and bracing for the 14-hour days to meet the holiday demand. Even after more than four decades in business, Meherg doesn’t talk about retiring. Creating a new mold for a chocolate novelty her customers would love is a lot of fun, just as she and her friends thought it would be more than 40 years ago.
Location: 990 State Hwy. 146W in Golconda Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday Phone: (618) 949-3829 Website: chocolatefactoryinc.com Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Chocolate Factory
Location: 990 State Hwy. 146W in Golconda
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday
Phone: (618) 949-3829