Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Gorant Chocolatier (Gorant Candies)

Gorants on Federal street

The original Gorant store on Federal street.

Chocolate is one of the languages of love. This is Valentine’s weekend and reminded me of a name synonymous with good chocolate. If you grew up in Youngstown, Gorant Candies was probably the place when you went to buy chocolate for the holidays, for your special Valentine, for a birthday, for Mother’s Day, or just to satisfy your chocolate craving. Chocolate covered strawberries, assortments of milk and dark chocolates, chocolate pecan tootles, milk chocolate raspberry parfaits, French mints, chocolate covered pretzels, cherry cordials, and of course–buckeyes!

Is your mouth watering yet? Well, Gorant Chocolatier is still in business and you can order chocolate at their website. You can also visit one of their five locations, all in the greater Youngstown area. If at all possible, you want to visit the factory and store at 8301 Market Street in Boardman. The smell of the chocolate is to die for!

It all began in 1949 with two brothers, Charles and Sam Gorant. They began not with chocolate but with sugar mints that they sold door to door. They opened a store on Federal Street between McKelvey’s and Strouss and sold them in both downtown department stores. By 1954 they had three stores and had moved into the chocolate business. An individual who remains anonymous to this day sold them his recipe along with chocolate making equipment.

In 1972, they launched their Yum Yum Tree stores selling gifts and greeting cards in addition to candy, many in the new shopping malls springing up around the country. In 1977, they opened their manufacturing plant on Market Street. The company history notes that all the candies are still poured on tables and cut by hand. The Gorant brothers philosophy was expressed in this statement: “If the work is done by hand you can catch the imperfections and ensure the quality of all the chocolates before they are packed.”

Sam Gorant died in 1982. Charles sold the company in 1986, and it changed hands several times, eventually owned by Cleveland’s American Greeting Card Company which sold the product in 500 of their stores and through another 200 wholesale accounts. In 2009, American Greetings sold off Gorant, closing 34 stores, to Joe Miller, who at this writing is still the owner of the company, now renamed Gorant Chocolatier. At the time of the sale, they went from an $11 million to a $3 million company.

While the company has a smaller retail presence than it once had, they have expanded their sales to private label customers, fund-raising, mail order and internet business. They’ve streamlined inventory, manufacturing, and cost control processes and gained SQF certification for food safety that expands Gorant Chocolatier’s global marketing possibilities.

About 50 people work at the factory and store year round with extra employees during the peak season from September through April. While the company has changed ownership and marketing strategy, they continue not only making their chocolates by hand out of the best ingredients. Over the course of the year they produce 400 different chocolate products.

Recently, my wife and I stayed at the Inn at Amish Door in Wilmot, Ohio. It is part of an “Amish village” with a restaurant, banquet, bakery, and store complex with a number of special events. We delighted in the quality construction, comfortable lodging, and great food we enjoyed during a short, overnight stay. While researching this post, I discovered that previous to purchasing Gorant, Joe Miller was Vice Chairman and President of the Amish Door company, started and still operated by his parents, and helped develop the complex into a major attraction in the quiet village of Wilmot. One hopes that he will continue to lead Gorant Chocolatier in the same way.