Local couple hopes to continue Mitchell’s Chocolates tradition
Newlyweds Jason Hallaman and Emily Bean are seeking to carry on the Mitchell’s tradition for the next generation of chocolate lovers. Bill Mitchell, whose family founded Mitchell’s Fine Chocolates in 1939, announced his desire to retire from the business last year. Without children or other family members to succeed him, he sought a buyer he could trust to carry on the brand and maintain the family recipes.
A few short weeks ago, he found two. Hallaman and Bean said they were out shopping on the Eastside when they saw a display of Mitchell’s chocolates and exclaimed how much they liked them. The store clerk overheard and casually asked if they had heard the news that the business was for sale.
“We go to the same church [Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Cleveland Heights], but we hadn’t heard he was selling the business,” said Hallaman. “We dropped everything and ran over to the store on Lee Road to talk to Bill.”
They soon came to an agreement on purchase price, and Mitchell penned a letter announcing the couple’s intent on May 11 that he posted on his website and sent to friends and customers. Mitchell will continue to own the building and plans to be available to mentor the couple for at least 12 months.
Since then, Hallaman and Bean have been working to raise the capital to purchase the business. They launched a Kickstarter campaign on May 4 to fund some of the working capital needed to purchase inventory and pay employees through the lean summer months as the couple works to learn the business and gear up for the busier fall and holiday seasons. The store currently has 10 part-time employees that the couple hopes to retain.
“Our main goal is to continue delivering candies, truffles and caramels in the Mitchell's tradition that the community has come to love,” the couple says on their Kickstarter page. “In addition to increasing marketing and social media presence, we plan to stay open later on Fridays and Saturdays, host wine pairings with local businesses, streamline the website and online store, and continue to develop and expand our product line.”
At a May 22 meet-and-greet event organized by FutureHeights volunteer Micah Kirman, the couple said that while they don’t plan to change the recipes, they do have plans to take a fresh approach to marketing and the customer experience.
“People don’t realize that the Lee Road store is the production facility,” said Bean. “Mitchell’s is a true chocolatier. All the candies are made on site.” She said they would like to enable customers to view the chocolates being made by installing glass walls. They will also consider putting the existing 1950s-era freezer and the popcorn machine from 1935 to use again.
The couple said they like the idea that a Kickstarter campaign can help community members feel invested in a business, and that every level of support includes a special perk. A $5 pledge will get your name on a special in-store display, while a $250 pledge will net you a special behind-the-scenes tour.
Hallaman said he has 25 years of experience in the food service industry. Bean, who works for University Hospitals, just received her M.B.A. in pharmaceutical management. She said she plans to continue working fulltime so that they won’t have to draw a salary from the business right away.
With less than seven days to go, the Kickstarter campaign has attracted 130 backers and raised more than $13,120 toward the goal of raising $60,000 by 11:59 p.m. on May 30.
What will happen if the campaign does not reach its goal? Hallaman and Bean said that Mitchell will likely close down the business, sell the equipment and lease the storefront. They encourage potential backers to contact them with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-459-9057.
Deanna Bremer Fisher
Deanna Bremer Fisher is executive director of FutureHeights and publisher of the Heights Observer.