The 'Original' Mr. B. Chocolatier returns
WILLMAR -- Mr. B. Chocolatier is back.
The popular Willmar chocolate business is under new ownership and is once again hand-making and will be selling those delicious Swiss truffles and Belgian-style chocolates at the kitchen and retail shop located at 916 Litchfield Ave. S.W.
"The Original Mr. B. Chocolatier Chocolates Company Inc.,'' as the business is now called, is owned by Steve and Kathy Hanson of Litchfield. Kathy Hanson is the daughter of Dwight Barnes, a longtime Willmar professional photographer whose love for chocolate launched a second career as a chocolatier about 17 years ago.
Barnes gained a reputation in Willmar and other parts of Minnesota for hand-molded chocolates made from the highest-quality flavorful ingredients imported from around the world.
Barnes retired from photography and sold the chocolate business in 2007. David and Patricia George and Ian and Danielle George became the co-owners. Danielle, now Danielle Kallevig, is Barnes' granddaughter.
Under their ownership, the kitchen was moved from Barnes' Old Town location at Sixth Street and Benson Avenue Southwest to the former Tom Thumb store on Litchfield Avenue. The retail store moved to South First Street.
The venture did not work out, however, and the business closed its doors this past Valentine's Day.
Mr. B. gained new life after the Hansons learned that the bank intended to sell the chocolate-making equipment. Hanson said he made an offer, and the bank accepted.
The chocolate business is new to the Hansons. They own and operate Crow's Nest Programs Inc. in Litchfield, a provider of residential living services to mentally disabled persons in Meeker and Kandiyohi counties.
"At this point we just want to get Mr. B. settled in here in Willmar,'' said Hanson. "We have hopes of doing a lot of the things that Dwight had done with chocolate in the past and hopefully open up other niches in the chocolate business, that we'll be able to get the word out that Mr. B. chocolate is the best in the world, because it is.''
Although Barnes retired to Nevis a couple of years ago, he continued to have a love for the chocolate business. He's been helping re-establish the business by cleaning the store and the familiar chocolate-making equipment, and has been teaching Steve how to order boxes, ingredients and other things needed to make and sell chocolate.
Word of Mr. B.'s return has been spreading around town. Many community members were glad to see Barnes and his chocolate fountain during an open house a couple of weeks ago at Family Eye Center in Willmar.
"Actually, we're quite excited because we know that there are a lot of people who are smiling because Mr. B. is back,'' said Hanson.
Other Barnes family members are also involved in the business. Director of sales is Mary Reishus and production manager is Susan Kallevig. Both women are Dwight's daughters. Braum Sharstrom, Dwight's grandson, is also a chocolatier. Danielle Kallevig remains part of the business, working in sales.
Longtime kitchen staff Lorna Post and Ruth Caskey, who worked for Dwight in the beginning, have returned.
Reishus worked with Dwight in the photography and chocolate business for 30 years. She was out of the business for two years and is glad to return.
"I missed it quite a bit, actually. It feels good to be back,'' she said.
One of the first things the new owners did was to install two big windows for retail customers to watch the chocolates being made.
"That's going to be different than the way it used to be at the studio. It was hard for people to come back and see it, where now they can come in with a family or whoever and watch them molding, watch them enrobing the chocolates,'' said Reishus.
The Hansons are leasing the building but have the right of first refusal if someone else makes an offer. The coin-operated laundry is a separate business and will continue in operation.
Steve Hanson said they'll probably know within 18 months to two years how the business is going to go. They hope to open the retail store by mid-November, but everything depends on arrival of ingredients and the time required to make the chocolates.
Reishus said the store used to have 75 different kinds of candy.
"When we open we probably won't have all 75 right away, but we'll work back up to that,'' she said. "We'll have a good variety again. Most chocolate places will go with maybe a dozen types of candies, but nobody does like we do with the variety of chocolate. That's what we're hoping for again.''
Steve Hanson said the milk chocolate truffles are unbelievable.
"They are the best in the world.''