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Willmar: Mr. B's serves up decadent creations at Willmar shop

A tray full of unique chocolate Easter characters sit in the work room at Mr. B's in Willmar. Tribune photo by Ron Adams1 / 4
Ruth Caskey fills an Easter rabbit mold with chocolate in the work room at Mr. B's in Willmar. Tribune photo by Ron Adams2 / 4
Owner Steve Hanson stands behind the front counter at Mr. B's in Willmar. Tribune photo by Ron Adams3 / 4
A large hand-painted chocolate Easter Bunny with the mold that it was made in sits in the work room at The Original Mr. B Chocolatier shop in Willmar. Tribune photo by Ron Adams4 / 4

It all started with a love of Belgian chocolate truffles.

While traveling across Europe as president of the World Photography Association in the 1980s, Dwight Barnes frequented the best chocolate shops Europe had to offer. He grew to love the Belgian chocolate truffles best of all. When given the opportunity to trade photography lessons for a chance to learn how to make those truffles, he took it.

Today, west central Minnesotans can enjoy those same Belgian chocolates at The Original Mr. B Chocolatier in Willmar, a shop Barnes founded 25 years ago. It's now owned by Barnes' daughter Kathy Hanson and her husband, Steve.

The shop sells more than 75 kinds of chocolate, all made from the finest imported Belgian chocolate. Recently, Mr. B's has expanded to sell cakes, cupcakes, creampuffs and even chocolate-dipped fruit.

Since the store ships its chocolate to all 50 states, people from across the country know of Mr. B's. Many are surprised to learn the shop is located in Willmar, Minnesota, said Steve Hanson.

"West central Minnesota is a good area for our business," Hanson said. "Minnesota has a stable economic environment. The people are friendly, and this is where our family is from."

All of the chocolate is produced in the Willmar store behind a wall with two large windows, so customers can see the chocolate being made. Five machines, all from Belgium, melt and temper the chocolate. The different types of chocolate -- dark, milk and white -- all need to be melted at different temperatures.

Once the chocolate is melted, it's molded into different shapes and then cooled in a freezer. Mr. B's has thousands of molds, Hanson said, and the shop can also take specialty orders if a customer requests a specific mold. Once it's cooled, chocolatiers finish by decorating the candy.

"It's kind of like artwork in the way it's presented," Hanson said. "It makes Mr. B's a true specialty shop."

The chocolate looks good, but it's the taste that keeps customers coming back for more. What makes Belgian chocolate different than American chocolate is the cocoa butter used in place of vegetable fat. It's actually healthier than American chocolate with half the sugar, although it won't last as long, said Mary Reishus, another of Barnes' daughters and general manager of The Original Mr. B Chocolatier. Most of the boxed chocolates with fillings at Mr. B's can last about two months.

"We keep the chocolate as fresh as possible," Reishus said. "That's also what makes it taste better."

The quality of chocolate has always stayed the same, but over the years, Mr. B's itself has undergone a few changes. The shop closed in February 2009, and it stayed closed until the Hansons purchased the store later that year. This fall, the store's three-year lease will expire, and Mr. B's will make another big change: It's moving from its current Litchfield Avenue location to the other end of town, next to Westside Liquor on U.S. Highway 12.

"Wine and chocolate just go well together," Hanson said. "We also think we'll get more drive-by customers on the other end of town."

No matter where the shop is located, Hanson said it will stay true to its origins. From the founding of the store to present day, Mr. B's has always been about one thing: the chocolate.

"I just love the truffles," Hanson said. "Dwight used to say, 'I only make the chocolates I like, and I like them all.' I'm the same way. I rely solely on my taste buds to tell me how we're doing our job. We make sure every piece of chocolate that leaves here looks beautiful and tastes beautiful. That's the ultimate goal we strive for."

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

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