The Bay Area’s chocolate scene is radical, innovative and profound. That said, few players in the cocoa game have deeper historical ties to this city than the folks at Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. Today, the company hopes to enter the 21st century in a major way. The Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience Store, inside the Woolen Mill Building on Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, will reopen to the public on May 20 after a complete overhaul. Ghirardelli not only wants to look better, but also to share the smells and behind-the-scenes footage of chocolate making. “It’s one of the most iconic places in San Francisco,” says Justin Reese, vice president of retail and e-commerce at Ghirardelli Square. “But we realized our retail business needed a refresh.”
The 5,985 square foot space has been updated to allow the 170-year-old chocolate company to bring customers into the chocolate-making experience. This is the first time the company will be making in-store fresh chocolate bars, as well as toasted hazelnuts and almonds, for customers to try. The makeover was led by Eight Inc.the Bay Area design firm responsible for the Ex-Machina sleek style of Apple stores. For more design inspiration, Reese says the company and designers turned to Ghirardelli’s own brand. “Ghirardelli Square is a one-of-a-kind original,” says Reese. “It’s such a special place. We didn’t need to copy anything else.
The commercial offer will not change much. The main draw remains sundaes, with nods to Ocean Beach and Land’s End in sea salt and brownie sundaes, respectively. The Pick & Mix, Ghirardelli’s term for creating their own bag of their legendary chocolate squares, is a chance for fans to create their own handbags; the shop produces over 40 flavors of chocolate squares – with over 20 available for purchase each day. Customers can also personalize their boxes with on-the-spot photo printing to apply to boxes and bags at no additional cost, making it the Build-A-Bear workshop of chocolate shops.
Steve Genzoli, head of R&D at Ghirardelli, is giddy that customers will be able to smell everything from freshly formed chocolate bars to waffle cones. “We do a number of things really well, but this is the first time we can really showcase it,” Genzoli said. “Few people have tasted a freshly roasted nut. You put that in chocolate and it explodes in your mouth. From now on, fans will have this complete olfactory experience while waiting for their order or while browsing the store and the offers of the historical monument of San Francisco. Huge windows will allow fans to see Alcatraz and provide some natural light for staff while they tend to back operations.
Tourists and locals have long flocked to Place Ghirardelli, and this engagement with multiple communities was a priority during the redesign. Ghirardelli supports the Boys and Girls Club of the Bay; in early May, Ghirardelli brought in a parent involved with the Boys and Girls Club to throw the first pitch at a Giants game. “We see Ghirardelli Square as a way to strengthen our partnerships,” says Reese. “It’s not a drastic change. It’s about highlighting the great things we do.