Schakolad expands into sweet Westfield locationWritten by Emily Gibb | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When Gordon Ebright’s life as a packaging engineer and auto industry worker ended, he never dreamed he would be the owner of two Schakolad Chocolate Factory stores. He said the chocolate boutiques are “based around fresh products and smiling customers.”
“Twenty months ago, if someone would have asked me, ‘Where do you see yourself in six months?’ I would have said, ‘Back in the automotive industry’,” 48-year-old Ebright said.
After nine years of work at General Motors, Ebright was laid off on Oct. 4, 2007. He was called into the conference room where his new boss of three days told him he was being let go because he was the highest paid employee, Ebright said. They handed him a box, followed him into his office and gave him five minutes to pack up his things while they watched. Then security checked his box on his way out.
Ebright got into his car and called his wife. It was only about 1:30 p.m. and his life was dramatically changed.
Around two years, 643 resumes, one interview and no offers later, Ebright and his wife were in Ann Arbor celebrating the five-year anniversary of their first date. With some extra time before a comedy show, they walked into a Schakolad store.
They were curious about it after hearing how good its products tasted from a friend who knew the owner.
The date was Aug. 21, 2009. Something about Schakolad resonated with Ebright. Even his wife could tell he was seriously thinking that this could be his next move.
“She said, ‘Let’s just get through the night. I can see the wheels turning already,”’ he said.
As funny as the comedian was, Ebright said, he can’t remember a single joke. He was already focused on what could be his next career move.
After an introduction with the Ann Arbor Schakolad owner, Scott Huckstein, Ebright asked if there were any management opportunities with his store. Huckstein told him there weren’t, but there was a franchise needing an owner in Perrysburg at Levis Commons.
Ebright is no stranger to Toledo. He attended Start High School and the University of Toledo after spending time at Kent State University.
After a four-and-a-half-hour interview, several loan setbacks, sacrifices and a little bit of luck, Ebright owned the Levis Commons Store, found a new life passion and gained a mentor in Huckstein, he said.
Ebright said he loves that when people come in seeming down and having a bad day, he can talk to them, give them suggestions and watch them walk out with a smile. He said it’s like he’s handing happiness across the counter.
“I’m like a bartender without the DUI risk,” he said.
Ebright passed his creative spirit to his 19-year-old daughter, Ami. She noticed a bag of broken pretzels in the store that Ebright wasn’t able to use and decided they should not be wasted.
So she perused the shelves, grabbed some peanut butter, caramel and chocolate and started mixing. The final product was the Tortoise bar.
However, she had made it much bigger than the usual, sellable piece of chocolate. But Ebright took a chance. He chopped one up for samples, and at more than $5 a bar, they quickly sold out.
Customers were hooked, so Ebright had her re-create it. It was still a little too big, but it sold out again.
After a few trial runs, they got it down to the right size. Now the Tortoise bar has become an international hit, as customers have shipped it to loved ones in places such as France and Hawaii.
Customers know Ebright will take care of their needs and he enjoys seeing the happiness when they walk out of his store.
“It’s fun — the little things you do — you can’t put a price on that,” he said.
I want candy
In July, the leasing agents with Westfield Franklin Park Shopping Mall contacted him about opening a Schakolad store in the mall after seeing the success he had in Levis Commons.
He doubted it would go through —up to that point, no Schakolad owner had been allowed to run two stores. He became the first.
After several setbacks, including getting shut down on Black Friday morning for not having the health inspection yet, Ebright opened up the store on Feb. 10 — just in time for Valentine’s Day. Two health department inspectors came out on their own time and worked with Ebright to give him their stamp of approval.
“I really felt honored that they would give up their own personal time so that I could open in time for Valentine’s Day,” he said. “People say, ‘you know, City Hall in Toledo — this and that and the other — but I honestly feel if you work with them and you tell them your challenges, they work with you. They bend over backwards.”
Ebright also felt very welcomed by other store owners in the mall who were graciously willing to help out with change or a cup of water, he said.
The ball is rolling in the new location — the grand opening event on March 9 featured an appearance by Mayor Mike Bell, who got to take a hammer to a 10-pound piece of chocolate.
Ebright is giving back with his store’s success. It has raised an additional $1,600 for a Toledo Seagate Food Bank drive, among other charities.
Ebright said he understands what it’s like to be humble and appreciates the opportunity.
“It’s really amazing because I went from being unemployed and looking for a job to hiring three people, and then six people,” Ebright said. “Not only did I create myself a job, but I have the potential to have created, or saved, 12 jobs.”