EMPIRE, MI – Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate has long been known for its eye-catching green building, now tucked along M-22 at the very edge of Empire. Later this summer, this beloved Northern Michigan spot will expand with the opening of a new bakery and gelato shop right next door, as well as a huge new outdoor space for relaxing.
This new stretch of all things sweet not only is expected to expand the downtown area of tiny Empire – the headquarters of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore - but also create a treat-filled gathering spot right where the southern tip of the 22-mile Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail flows into this Lake Michigan beach town.
“What we are really excited about is stretching the boundaries of downtown Empire,” said Jody Hayden, a chocolatier and businesswoman who owns the ventures with her husband, DC Hayden. “In the spring, summer and fall, we get a lot of people coming off the trail, looking for a snack. It feels like a really sweet corner where we can welcome people.”
A couple of things are fueling this expansion: the purchase of two buildings on either side of the existing Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate shop, and an $80,000 state grant that is helping the couple with the plans, including the purchase of new freezers and high-end gelato-making equipment from Italy.
The Haydens have known for a while their business has been ripe to grow. It was just a matter of timing – and space. Grocer’s Daughter has made a name for itself in Michigan and beyond with its artisan hand-made chocolates. These include honey caramels, silky truffles, specialty bars, fudgsicles and sought-after paper bags of drinking chocolate. Their chocolate is sourced mostly from small farms in Ecuador, with the rest of their dairy, fruit, honey and other ingredients coming from local farmers.
Of the two next-door buildings the Grocer’s Daughter team purchased, the former insurance building is the one being remodeled into the bakery and gelato shop. It will have outdoor seating and a walk-up window for customers. Its second-floor space is being converted into studio apartments with balconies overlooking the famed M-22. Initially, these apartments will be used as rentals to help cover the cost of the project. Eventually though, Jody Hayden said they’d love to invite people from the international chocolate community to stay there while they all continue to learn the craft from each other.