The chocolate scene in the Bay is radical, innovative, and deep. That said, few players in the cacao game have deeper historical ties to this city than the folks at Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. Now the company hopes to step into the 21st century in a major way. The Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience Store, inside the Woolen Mill Building at Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, is re-opening to the public on May 20 after an extensive redesign. Ghirardelli wants to not only look better, but also share the behind-the-scenes smells and sights of chocolate making. “It’s one of the most iconic places in San Francisco,” says Ghirardelli Square’s VP of Retail and Ecommerce Justin Reese. “But we realized our retail there was in need of a refresh.”
The 5,985-square-foot space was updated to allow the 170-year-old chocolate company to bring customers into the chocolate making experience. It’s the first time the company will make fresh chocolate bars in store, alongside roasting 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’ retail stores. For further design inspiration, Reese says the company and designers looked to Ghirardelli’s own brand. “Ghirardelli Square is a one-of-a-kind original,” Reese says. “It’s such a special place. We didn’t need to copy anything else.”
The retail offerings won’t change much. The main draw are still the sundaes, with nods to Ocean Beach and Land’s End in the sea salt and brownie sundaes, respectively. The Pick & Mix, Ghirardelli’s term for building one’s own bag of their legendary chocolate squares, is a chance for fans to build their own grab-bags; the shop produces more than 40 flavors of chocolate squares — with more than 20 available for purchase every day. Customers can personalize their tins, too, with on-site photo printing to apply to the tins and bags at no extra cost, making this the Build-A-Bear Workshop of chocolate shops.
Steve Genzoli, Ghirardelli’s head of R&D, is giddy at the idea that customers will be able to smell everything from the just-formed chocolate bars to the baking waffle cones. “We do a number of things really well, but this is the first time we can really showcase it,” Genzoli says. “Few people have tasted a freshly roasted nut. You put that inside the chocolate and it explodes inside your mouth.” Now fans will get that full olfactory experience as they wait for their order, or as they browse the shop and the offerings at the historic San Francisco landmark. Huge windows will let fans see Alcatraz and bring some natural light to staff as they take care of operations in the back.
Tourists and locals alike have long flocked to Ghirardelli Square, and that engagement with multiple communities was top of mind during the redesign. Ghirardelli supports the Boys and Girls Club in the Bay; at the beginning of May, Ghirardelli brought 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 further our partnerships,” Reese says. “This isn’t a radical change. It’s about shining light on the great things we do.”