Family-owned business becomes leading chocolate manufacturer
HOPEDALE, Mass. (AP) — Tucked away off Route 140 in the small town of Hopedale, Green Mountain Chocolate Co. churns out millions of truffles, holiday candy and chocolate-covered potato chips each year.
Owned by husband-and-wife team Bill and Lisa Campbell, the company has grown to become one of the leading chocolate manufacturers in Massachusetts. The couple bought the company in 2002 from Albert Kumin — a legendary pastry chef who created desserts for Jimmy Carter’s White House — and moved the business from Vermont to Franklin, Massachusetts.
Today, the company operates two retail stores — one in Franklin and one adjacent to its Hopedale factory.
“We’re a wholesale manufacturer for the industry, first and foremost,” Bill Campbell said. “Opening a retail store was kind of secondary to us, and now both retail stores are incredible. They keep growing every year. We have great customers, we have great employees.”
Seventeen years ago, the Campbells decided they were ready for a change. Lisa had just earned her teaching license and Bill was working as the director of national accounting for a chocolate company when Kumin, a longtime friend, told Bill he wanted to get rid of his business.
“I said, ‘Sell it to me,’” Bill Campbell said. “We just figured it was a good opportunity, we really looked into the business. It was established, we thought it was a fair price and we thought it had room for growth.”
So the Campbells and their two young sons loaded all the company’s equipment into a truck and drove it to a temporary facility in Franklin, where they stayed for three years before building a permanent home in Hopedale.
Today, they manufacture everything from truffles — which the company is best known for — to chocolate Easter bunnies and fudge.
“When people come into our store, it’s not like going into CVS. They’re coming in because they want a gift, they want to give something or get something that’s going to enrich their lives as a sweet or happy moment,” he said. “That’s a fun part of the business — we are a happy place to come and we try to be fun here. We’re always laughing.”
But Bill Campbell said running the sweet business has not been without its challenges.
“I’d been in the business for a long time and you get that sense of, ‘I can do anything,’ and then you realize that you didn’t know anything after you bought it,” he said.
Campbell said he’s had to learn a lot over the years — everything from how to fix broken machinery to the importance of closely monitoring the sugar, milk and cocoa markets.
He’s also seen the industry evolve over the years.
“I was welcomed 30-plus years ago by this older generation of candy makers who are now all gone and now I’m the old one. It’s amazing to see that whole cycle,” he said. “The candy industry is really special — you’re welcomed. It’s just a different industry than anything I’ve ever been in. We’ll have tours for the industry groups here, you just open your facility up — even to your competitors.”
Lisa Campbell manages more of the retail side of the business, where Bill said she’s able to interact with customers and serve as a role model for high school-age employees — especially young women.
“She’s really great at it. We always laugh that she’s like a bartender,” Bill Campbell said. “She loves her customers. Her customers will come in and talk to her — they trust her, whether it be about chocolate, what they’re buying, or kids and family.”
Although Lisa never ended up teaching professionally, Bill said she teaches her employees every day.
“We always hire high school girls or boys to work in the store, and she’s demanding, but she’s such a great teacher and an inspiration for them,” he said.
Bill said that being good, a fair employer is important to his family. The company’s employees, which range seasonally from 10 to 12 in the summer to 25 to 35 during the busier seasons, are offered 401(k) plans, health insurance and other benefits.
“You have to have a passion for it, too,” he said. “When the equipment breaks or whether it’s people or customers, you have to be passionate about all ends of it. If you’re not, it’s not worth it.”