Opening in Kāpiti in 1992 and quickly becoming one of the country's biggest chocolate distributors, the Kāpiti Chocolate Factory started after Featherston woman Lenore Nysse's husband bought home a box of decadent chocolates from a Europe trip.
Inspired by what she was eating, Lenore started experimenting, making her own chocolates and testing them out on her friends and family before selling them at markets.
Originally named Nyco Chocolates, the business started in the 1980s and moved to Kāpiti in 1992, growing to the point where it produced chocolate for the likes of Deka and Farmers.
"They would distribute and export chocolate, run three shifts a day - it was almost a 24-hour-a-day operation, seven days a week," Kāpiti Chocolate Factory owner Sarah Abaniel said.
"It was a big operation for a while until the marriage broke down and things fell apart in 2014."
Between then and now the business went into liquidation, Auckland based company Chocolate Brown purchased it and tried to run it from a distance for a year, before putting it back on the market.
"Chocolate Brown bought it – they had more of a boutique, artisan style of production rather than mass production and they tried to run it for a while but it didn't last long."
It was Sarah's husband, James, who then spotted it for sale on Trade Me in 2018.
"He said to me 'there's a chocolate factory for sale in Kāpiti, we should go have a look'. We came up on Easter Saturday, had a look around, and then a few weeks later he told me he'd made an offer and they accepted it.
"I think James just thought it would be fun and something a bit different."
Just like that, and to the delight of their two children, Sarah and James bought a chocolate factory.
"The kids tell their friends at school that their parents run a chocolate factory and I don't know if they really believe them, but my son has a really sweet tooth, he loves chocolate and thinks it's great."
Taking on the business in 2018, Sarah and James rebranded it to become the Kāpiti Chocolate Factory and have slowly been growing it back up after all the upheaval since 2014. This meant closing the shop for several months to focus on growing their commercial contract work.
Slowly growing the business was going well until Covid-19 came along.
"A lot of our business is contract work making chocolates for companies that sold them to tourists and had them in souvenir shops. That was a big chunk of our business, so we had to look at how we were going to 'pivot'."
Kāpiti Chocolate Factory took Covid-19 as an opportunity to increase its own brand presence which meant selling chocolate under its own name and increasing its direct-to-consumer online presence.
In September 2020 they also purchased Kako Chocolates which has added artisan chocolates and embossed chocolates to their offering. This means businesses can get their brand printed directly onto the chocolate rather than just printed onto the packaging as they do for companies such as Tommy's Real Estate.
"We can put their brand onto both the packaging and directly onto the chocolate."
Contract manufacturing is also a big part of their operation, producing chocolate that is used by other food manufacturers in their products, such as Talley's icecream or combining with other food producers such as Dark Horse to make coffee chocolate.
Different from the likes of Whittaker's or Wellington Chocolate Factory, the Kāpiti Chocolate Factory buys chocolate rather than doing the bean-to-bar process.
"You won't see us in supermarkets competing with other brands because we focus more on contract manufacturing and corporate branded products.
"Covid-19 has definitely changed what we do, but we had a massive Easter and had never seen the shop so busy."
Throughout all the change, many staff have remained, with some working in the factory for more than 20 years using the same tried and true recipes.
The chocolate process
Kāpiti Chocolate Factory runs demonstrations for groups - especially popular in the school holidays and for groups from local retirement villages. During the demonstration, you will learn about the process the chocolate goes through in the factory after being brought in from worldwide chocolate manufacturer Barry Callebaut.
Depending on what the chocolate is being used for either couverture or standard-grade chocolate is used.
"They make the top grade, couverture chocolate which is really premium and is what we use for the artisan Kako Chocolate. It's really top-notch chocolate because of the high percentage of cocoa butter in it.
"We then buy a standard grade for most of our other products but it also depends on what our customers want."
At the chocolate factory, the chocolate is then melted down, moulded and fillings are added if needed.
"We buy it in, melt it down, mould it and add our own fillings if needed."
Hundreds of moulds are available and the factory can also make customised moulds to create unique products.
"The most interesting chocolate we have made was probably an ear we made for a hearing company. We also worked with Tuatara to make their bottles with the scales into chocolate. While the product didn't get out, it was fun to be involved with a project like that, doing something really different."
This story was first published in the Celebrating Kāpiti 2022 spring/summer magazine.