Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate moves into hyggelig new space; fudgsicles sell like hotcakes


Photos by Taro Yamasaki

By Jacob Wheeler

Sun editor

One day last year, before Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate owners Jody and DC Hayden purchased the retail space next to Margaret Hodge’s Anchor Hardware—across M-22 from the Empire Village Inn—DC counted the number of cars that drove by and determined that Empire gets twice as much traffic north of the M-22 and M-72 intersection than south, where M-22 heads toward Benzie County. That sealed the deal.

The Haydens purchased the building from Hodge for an affordable price of $150,000 in mid-March and on June 15 moved half a mile north from the location they had rented next to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore staff housing. The move was seamless; production of Grocer’s Daughter’s popular chocolate truffles and fudgsicles never even stopped.

Grocer’s Daughter will host a grand opening in its new location on Saturday, July 7, which coincides with World Chocolate Day. Food will be available; families are encouraged to come and celebrate, picnic style.

“We’re making an investment in Empire by buying a piece of real estate and trying to beautify this stretch of 22,” said Jody. “With more and more people every year heading into the Sleeping Bear Dunes, it’s nice to be able to welcome them with an aesthetically pretty building and delicious chocolate.”

The Haydens have ordered bike racks to be installed out front to take advantage of their proximity to the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. Sidewalks along M-22 and into Empire’s residential neighborhood will attract more foot traffic and encourage visitors to stop and poke around town. Jody is excited about being part of a resurgence of new business activity in Empire—the vacant Deering’s Market notwithstanding. Out on M22, the Shipwreck Café is booming at lunchtime, Misers’ Hoard expanded its footprint last year, and Peter and Megan Schous’ new hotel next to the National Park headquarters should be ready in 2019.

“Grocer’s Daughter only moved a few hundred yards away, but the passing traffic increases dramatically,” said Misers’ Hoard owner Paul Skinner. “This gives people one more reason to stop. Hopefully they’ll linger around Empire. That benefits us all.”

Jody and DC look forward to a fantastic summer in their light, open, and inviting new space. While Grocer’s Daughter retains its iconic bright green exterior (frequent customers and Empire villagers lobbied for it to stay), the interior is inspired by Scandinavian design, explained DC. Behold the white walls, natural wood floors, modern blue and green sofas, and chairs with clean angles and spaces and inviting picnic tables outside.

“Our space and our seating are very much like a living room,” said Jody. “For me, the fun of chocolate is about bringing people together.”

Plus, the chocolate production area behind the counter is now visibly open to the visitor.

“With the old shop you couldn’t see production happening,” said DC. “What’s really great about the new interior is that now the customer can come and see the process. A big part of what we do is handcrafted chocolate. Now people can see the chocolate making production, how we do it, and all the care we put into it. It can be a unified experience for the customer.”

The inclusive, light space creates an atmosphere of hygge, the Danish word for coziness. That’s partly an homage to Grocer’s Daughter founder and Denmark native Mimi Wheeler. (Full disclosure, she’s my mom.) The Haydens acquired the company from Mimi five years ago.

“You don’t need a big space to make nice chocolate,” said Jody. “But it’s important to have the kitchen be accessible to eyesight. A lot of what we do is education about chocolate and connecting people to their food.”

Grocer’s Daughter sources most of its craft chocolate from Ecuador and oversees the entire value chain of chocolate from cacao farmer to consumer. Ecuador produces some of the highest quality dark chocolate in the world, and the Haydens invite customers and employees to join them on annual trips to meet the growers in Ecuador.

Three current employees have traveled to South America to meet the cacao farmers, including Molly Flerlage, a recent graduate of Macalester College who grew up in Burdickville and has worked at Grocer’s Daughter since she was 11. Flerlage traveled in March 2017 to visit the Fortaleza Del Valle cocoa cooperative in western Ecuador, where nearly 900 small, family farms rely on the cooperative to obtain expensive fair-trade and organic certifications, carefully process their beans, and ensure that they will be sold for a fair, living wage. Flerlage and fellow employee Emily Sherwood plan to return to Ecuador this fall to live on a cacao farm.

“I was lucky enough to travel to Ecuador with a team from Grocer’s Daughter and see firsthand the people and the places I’ve been hearing about for years,” Flerlage wrote in the Glen Arbor Sun last summer. “Many chocolatiers will never get this opportunity, even fewer get to experience the open and welcoming sentiments shared with us by both the cooperative and the farmers that represent it.”

Over the past three years Grocer’s Daughter has gone from sourcing fair-trade Ecuadorian chocolate to maintaining a unique direct trade relationship. That’s due in part to a relationship with Quito native, and New York City resident, Jenny Samaniego, who has developed her own company called Conexion.

“This is the beginning of a new solidarity cocoa economy that benefits everyone along the value chain,” said Jody. “Entrepreneurs like Jenny provide the vital link—offering high quality, direct trade chocolate to makers and chocolatiers, along with the opportunity to build relationships with the farmers.”

If it’s not already clear, Grocer’s Daughter is not your typical tourist-destination chocolate shop. Last June, Grocer’s Daughter and Conexion received two international chocolate awards. This year the Haydens are organizing with other chocolatiers around the Midwest to buy tasteful chocolate. Jody took part in a sold-out women’s roundtable chocolate event at Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor on June 14. The following week she traveled to New York City to connect with chocolatiers.

“Here we are this tiny little chocolate shop in Michigan, but we’re really getting connected into the national movement,” said Jody.

Meanwhile in Empire, the handcrafted chocolate truffles and the fudgsicles are selling like hotcakes. The fudgsicles are especially popular with the Haydens’ toddlers, Arlo and Charlie.

Jody and DC also recommend trying the honey caramels—sourced with honey from Sleeping Bear Farm and milk from Shetler’s Dairy—the smoked butter caramels with butter from Boss Mouse cheese, and the whiskey truffles with bourbon from Iron Fish Distillery. Planning a summer campfire? Try the spicy chocolate bark on your s’mores. On a wine tour? Try a sweet cherry wine with dark chocolate, which also pairs well with a rosé or a bottle of bubbly.

Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate, now located across M-22 from the Village Inn just north of the blinking light in Empire, is open from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and 11-5 on Sundays. A straw bale garden, planted with herbs used in the shop, and where kids can play, will be finished later this summer. Chocolate classes and tastings are offered, typically on Fridays from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and Mondays from 4-5 p.m. Sign up at