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Tuesday November 30, 2021
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Barbara Wilson and Lisa McDonald at Mindo Chocolates

Friends and Neighbors on N. Fourth Ave.

Years of texts led to Mindo Chocolate's first American store.

by Micheline Maynard

From the November, 2021 issue

Barbara Wilson fell in love with the Kerrytown neighborhood in 1972, when she was a student in Community High's first class. Even then, she dreamed of opening a business there. "I love Ann Arbor, and this is Ann Arbor to me," she says.

As it turned out, her path back to Kerrytown led through Mindo, Ecuador. She and her Ecuador-born husband, Jose Meza, bought land there after stepping back from their Ann Arbor car repair business, ArborMotion. They opened an internet cafe to help defray the cost of keeping in touch.

But then customers began asking for chocolates--and they discovered that no one was using the locally grown cacao to make artisanal chocolates. They connected to growers, and in 2009 founded Mindo Chocolate Makers in their Dexter home.

As Mindo grew to supply its bean-to-bar confections to more than 300 wholesale customers as well as online shoppers, Wilson kept pondering an Ann Arbor shop.

She regularly texted her friend Lisa McDonald, owner of TeaHaus on N. Fourth Ave., to find out if her friend knew of an available location.

Several years of texts later, McDonald said she did: right next door. Until the pandemic, TeaHaus served sandwiches, soup, salads, and sweets in a space that had once housed Cake Nouveau.

Unable to fully combine its retail and dining locations for structural reasons, the two essentially operated as separate businesses.

"There were customers who had lunch every day and didn't know we had loose tea, and customers who bought tea and didn't know we had lunch," McDonald says.

While TeaHaus's tea shop remained open during the pandemic, McDonald discontinued the cafe's table service due to Covid restrictions. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. "We had become much more of a restaurant than I wanted," she says.

When the limitations finally eased, McDonald debated whether it was worth reopening the dining area and brainstormed with Wilson. If she decided to give it up, would her friend want

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the space? Wilson quickly agreed.

"It was one of those things where you said, 'huh, this might work out,'" McDonald says. "If I'm going to have a neighbor, it's going to be a neighbor I want."

Wilson is aiming to open the 1,000-square-foot shop on November 5, with a full lineup of Mindo's imaginative chocolates, including many varieties of bars--some of them vegan--plus baking ingredients and hot chocolate mix.

The shop also is getting Mindo's first line of assorted chocolates, which can be purchased individually or in boxes.

Unlike other businesses, which have wrestled with finding staff, Wilson has already hired four people for the shop and hopes to add a fifth by opening day.

"People have quit their jobs to do what they want to do, and [working with] chocolate is one of the things they want to do," Wilson says.

Wilson says Mindo came through the pandemic with nearly the same sales volume that it enjoyed before 2020, but its customer mix is vastly different.

It lost many of the small retailers and coffee shops that used to stock its products. Bigger orders from grocery customers such as Plum Market, Busch's, Zingerman's, and Argus Farm Stop helped balance out the departures, however.

Wilson says she's looking forward to her former clients returning --and picking up new ones. "We will sell our chocolate to anyone who wants to buy it," she says.

As Wilson prepares to open, McDonald is also getting ready for a change. She's leased the corner space on Fourth Ave.vacated last summer when the Ann Arbor Running Company moved to S. Ashley (see below).

That space and her tea shop were originally one store, she says, so it will be relatively easy to combine them. Renovations will take until February, and McDonald is still working out how she'll deploy the larger space.

In the meantime, McDonald has launched a full program of special events at a separate space around the corner on Ann St. The twenty-four seat spot can be rented by businesses for meetings or reserved for small gatherings such as showers or luncheons.

Mindo Chocolate Makers, 206 N. Fourth Ave., (734) 660-5635. Hours TBD. mindochocolate.com

TeaHaus, 204 N. Fourth Ave., (734) 622-0460. Tues.-Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed Mon. teahaus.com
    (end of article)

 


 
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