On her birthday in 1944, Helen Grace would have been satisfied with a box of chocolates. Instead her husband bought her a chocolate shop.
And so our story begins...
The store, a mere 15 feet wide, was located at 255 W. 6th St. in San Pedro, CA—then a thriving shipyard community bustling with wartime activity. "Every day we would sell all the candies we could make. By the end of the day the shelves would be empty.” recalled Helen, the company’s matriarch and namesake.
Helen's husband Bill, who went by W.T. to family and friends, was a master candy maker who perfected his skills in the 20's and 30's having worked for a few chocolate companies. W.T. found out quickly just how good his candy making was. His thoughts were set on expansion.
Within 10 years, the enterprising couple outgrew the San Pedro store and moved to the nearby city of Lakewood. The candy making and chocolate hand-dipping process entertained and amazed customers. And sales skyrocketed.
Southern California’s booming post-war economy and suburban development helped offset the loss of the Navy presence at the ports. Helen Grace Chocolates continued to make a name for itself.
By 1956, with four locations and rapidly needing more production space, W.T. heard that a competitor in Lynwood was looking to sell his manufacturing facility. He bought the company and it became a thriving candy shop and soda fountain as well as a model for several new stores that were built after the acquisition.
Many Southern Californians still remember having their childhood birthday parties at Helen Grace ice cream and candy shops.
Fundraising Begins a New Era for Helen Grace
During the 60's, the Boy Scouts of America approached the company looking to raise funds by selling Helen's delicious fudge Easter eggs. So successful was the initial fundraiser, that a sales force was soon launched to inform local schools and other groups that they could also raise funds for their worthy programs by selling Helen Grace's chocolates. The idea worked.
Ice cream production and retailing virtually ended, while plant candy production increased to meet the demand for the increasing volume of chocolates for these fundraisers.
In the 70’s, W.T. and Helen's eldest son, James, who worked at the business since childhood, became President and CEO. Until his passing in 1989, W.T. continued to advise his son on daily operations. With years of experience, James guided the company by putting emphasis on the more profitable fundraising side of the business while balancing the operation of more than 25 retail stores.
Helen Grace Chocolates relocated to Rancho Dominguez in the late 80's to handle increased shipments of fundraising products.
By the mid 90's, Helen Grace's authentic line of “chocolate shop” fundraising chocolates, combined with an experienced sales force, and innovations in order processing, helped catapult the company into one of the largest family owned and operated confectionery manufacturers and fundraising companies in the West.
To date, Helen Grace Chocolates has helped organizations raise over $500 million through the sales of its boxed chocolates, candy bars, chocolate Easter eggs, wrapping paper, gift items, and other products.
“The kids just loved coming to our candy and ice cream stores back then,” explains James Grace. “But helping them raise money over the years for their schools has given us a tremendous sense of purpose and satisfaction.”
New Ownership for the New Millenium
The year 2001 marked an end and a new beginning. Seeking retirement, the Grace family attracted the interest of Robert and David Worth of Greensboro, NC. These twin brothers own Shamrock Corporation, a gift wrap manufacturer begun in the 1950's. Their idea was to combine and showcase the Helen Grace Chocolates brand in their own fundraising efforts of gift wrap through their Innisbrook Wraps™ national fundraising division.
“Acquiring Helen Grace Chocolates was a perfect fit,” remarks David Worth. “Their reputation as a leader in fundraising was well known to us. And their chocolates were outstanding in quality and value. But what truly sold us was their integrity and commitment to tradition."
Headed for the Future Keeping an Eye on the Past
“We see tremendous growth and an exciting future as Helen Grace Chocolates establishes itself as a national brand,” adds President, Rob Hadgraft. “With major capital improvements at the factory that include implementation of new systems and procedures, the same chocolates known and loved in California will be enjoyed by families throughout the country.”
At Helen Grace Chocolates, our family of employees continues its passion for chocolate. It’s part of the same magic that began in Helen and W.T.'s 15 ft. wide shop in San Pedro decades ago. And it’s a heritage we are committed to continue.