For more than 100 years, chocolate lovers have been buying treats from Gilbert Chocolates and watching them being made at the company’s downtown Jackson factory. Now owners Brian and Sally Krichbaum are bringing the chocolates to Ann Arbor. On June 1, they will open Gilbert’s first store outside Jackson since its founder moved there from Findlay, Ohio, in 1900.
They’ve landed a prime spot: the longtime Godiva Chocolates location on Briarwood’s center court. For the past three years, the Krichbaums have operated kiosks at the mall during the Christmas season, so when Godiva company closed all 128 of its North American stores earlier this year, they were ready.
“When the mall called to say Godiva was leaving, and would I be interested, I said, ‘Let me think about it. Yes,'” Brian Krichbaum says. “We get calls from all over the state, all the time, and we’ve always said Briarwood is the only one we would say yes to.”
With 228 varieties of chocolates and candies, Krichbaum says it’s difficult to pick a personal favorite. But the company’s best-sellers are “snappers,” close kin to DeMet’s popular (and trademarked) Turtles.
Gilbert’s version has caramel, pecans, and either milk or dark chocolate, and costs $27 a pound, as do its other handmade chocolates.
Although Gilbert sells boxed assortments of chocolates, the Briarwood location will have old-school glass candy cases. “I expect most people will stand there and pick out what they like,” Krichbaum says.
Cream-filled candies include maple, raspberry, vanilla, lemon, and coconut, while caramels come in many varieties. There are also chocolate-covered pretzels and molded frogs and flowers, as well as non-chocolate choices, such as jelly beans and gummy raspberries. Some are gluten-free, but it’s safest to ask before buying.
While it’s the first venture outside Jackson, Krichbaum doesn’t see a risk in expanding.
“We have the best candy in Michigan, so why wouldn’t we do well in Ann Arbor?” he asks. “People in Ann Arbor respond very favorably to us at Christmas time.”
In fact, Gilbert had its best year ever in 2020, despite the pandemic, thanks in part to strong mail-order business. Sales thus far in 2021 are exceeding last year’s, Krichbaum says (he declined to disclose its revenues).
The Christmas holidays are one of Gilbert’s five busiest seasons, along with Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day. Sales tend to slow down a little in the summer, which should give Gilbert’s time to settle in.
Gilbert has a relationship in Jackson with DoorDash, and Krichbaum expects to offer delivery in Ann Arbor, too, meaning you can stay home and enjoy your snappers, too.
Gilbert Chocolates, Briarwood mall, (517) 764-3141. Daily 11 a.m.-8 p.m. gilbertchocolates.com