The History Of The Ghirardelli Chocolate Company

If you're like us, the brand Ghirardelli brings to mind exceptional, delicious chocolate in delectable squares stuffed with ooey, gooey filling. But there's more to this chocolate than meets the eye, and with the diversity in offerings, it's a treat many chocolate lovers can adore.

From its humble beginnings as a small confectionery shop in San Francisco, Ghirardelli has grown into a powerhouse known for its premium chocolate products and commitment to quality and innovation. The history of Ghirardelli, the company's origins, its rise to prominence, and its enduring legacy in the world of chocolate are nothing short of fascinating. Whether you're a lifelong fan of Ghirardelli or simply appreciate good chocolate, there's something for everyone in a delicious exploration of one of America's most iconic chocolate brands.

Perhaps it's not surprising to learn that Ghirardelli has been part of the chocolate landscape of the United States since just after the gold rush era. Still, it is certainly impressive to recognize the company's growth since those earliest days, especially considering the fires it survived and the acquisitions it weathered.

The Gold Rush motivated Domenico Ghirardelli to move in 1849

Domenico "Domingo" Ghirardelli's story begins simply and far from San Francisco. In 1817, he was born in Rapallo, Italy. As a young man, he started his confectionery career as an apprentice at Romanengo's chocolate shop in Genoa. However, Genoa was not a peaceful place at the time and was prone to violence. So, at the age of 20, he moved to a safer place in Uruguay with his wife, Elisabetta. There, he found work at a chocolate shop and cafe. Only a year later, they moved to Lima, Peru. Here, Ghirardelli planned to establish himself as a chocolatier.

Alongside American businessman James Lick, he began working in confectionery in Peru. In fact, it was Lick who helped bring Ghirardelli's chocolate to San Francisco upon returning to the U.S. Then, pursuing riches from the Gold Rush, Ghirardelli left Peru for California in 1849. He failed as a prospector but found success elsewhere.

Storefronts were destroyed in 1851 fire

Despite his unsuccessful attempt to be a prospector, Ghirardelli was determined to make a name for himself in California. In the beginning, Ghirardelli opened a general store in Stockton, California. There, he sold supplies and treats to miners. This confectionery shop quickly gained a reputation for producing some of the best chocolate in the city. In fact, Ghirardelli's chocolate was so popular that he soon outgrew his original shop and opened a second store in San Francisco on a corner plot of Broadway and Battery. Ghirardelli saw quick success, being named one of the "Moneyed Men" of San Francisco with an estimated worth of $25,000.

Unfortunately, both stores were destroyed in a series of devastating fires that swept through the city in 1851. The fires broke out repeatedly, causing widespread panic and loss of property, and many people were left homeless. The fires had a significant impact on the economy of the city, and many businesses, including Domenico's stores, were destroyed. However, this didn't leave San Franciscans or Ghirardelli without hope, and the city continued blossoming. In fact, the population increased by 45,000 people in the decade following the fires.

Domenico Ghirardelli founded the company in 1852

After all of the destruction from the fires, you might imagine that Ghirardelli would have been entirely down and out. However, he salvaged what he had left to open up a coffee shop called Colorado House Coffee in September of the same year of the fires. This was only a few months after the destruction. Unfortunately, that coffee shop would fail, and he would open another spot called Ghirardely & Girard. This was located on the corner of Kearny and Washington, the site that would one day become the very popular Ghirardelli Chocolate Company.

Just one year after the fires, Ghirardelli was importing 200 pounds of cocoa beans. The company would make several moves before eventually ending up on Greenwich and Powell Street. The space also offered living quarters for Ghirardelli and his family. In 1884, Ghirardelli's sons made it a family business as the company shifted its focus to chocolate, coffee, and spices.

Embracing innovation is a core principle of Ghirardelli

Innovation is one of the best ways to improve an already great product. Since its earliest days, Ghirardelli has taken to new and exciting ways to enhance the chocolate. In 1865, a new way of adding an enhancement to chocolate flavor changed the game for chocolatiers worldwide. Employees discovered that if they hung chocolate inside a warm room, cocoa butter within the chocolate would soon drip out. Dripping would create a residue that could then be included in ground chocolate. As a result of incorporating this residue, the process would allow the flavor to become even more prominent in whatever confection was being produced. This process was given a name: the Broma process.

Well beyond chocolate treats, Ghirardelli continues to innovate. Today, that innovation comes in different ways to utilize chocolate in many different ways in your cooking and baking, from candy making to your daily coffee.

Ghirardelli frequently experiments with unique ingredients

In their regularly available chocolate range, you can find white, milk, and dark chocolate. Of course, the real magic comes with what is inside each little square. The obvious options like caramel or almond are ever present, but very often, you can find options that are a little less common.

Within the fruit range, Ghirardelli offers everything from raspberry or cherry to blood orange. In the fall, we have even seen caramel apple-filled chocolate squares. Since Ghirardelli wants to cater to the changing seasons, like every other candy company, you will often find flavors lasting for only a short period. For example, peppermint-based chocolate is always common around the winter holidays. However, they are nearly impossible to find throughout the rest of the year. We also enjoy the cherry almond dark chocolate. Each of those ingredients is a powerful addition to any chocolate bar on its own, but combined, they are even more magical.

Ghirardelli is a trailblazer in advertising strategies

Ghirardelli was one of the first companies to use advertising to promote sales in a meaningful way. Following a 1906 earthquake that left San Francisco in rough shape, but Ghirardelli nearly untouched, the family needed to decide how to move forward. Change happened in 1910 when the company brought new advertising that included drawings of Ghirardelli's historical role in the city and the draw of delicious hot cocoa for one's romantic life and even healthy living. These ads also featured a new mascot. The large parrot was intended to teach people how to pronounce the company's name with the slogan, ​​"Say Gear-Ar-Delly."

Within the next decade, Ghirardelli billboards would spring up throughout the country with a parrot mascot promoting Ghirardelli to children. The parrot continued to be prominent in future advertisements. The company even produced a silent film called "A Sweet Story" which showed audience members how cocoa is harvested to become a delicious chocolate bar.

Today, Ghirardelli advertising takes a slightly different look by sharing the calmness and tranquility enjoying a delicious chocolate bar should inspire. These ads portray a beautiful and elegant life emblematic of the Ghirardelli brand.

Among first premier chocolatier to list cacao content

In addition to becoming an early adopter of quality, effective marketing, Ghirardelli was also among the first to list the cacao content of its chocolate. Cacao is different from cocoa both in taste and actual health benefits. Cacao has compounds that can contribute to aiding your immune system, brain, and even heart. It comes from cacao beans that have been roasted and fermented before being made into a powder. On the other hand, cocoa has a much milder flavor, but since it has been processed more, much of the nutrients that provide health benefits have been processed out.

Ghirardelli offers some impressive dark chocolate options with relatively high cacao content. With options from 60 to 92%, these choices come with an "intense dark" label. However, from 72 to 92%, the cacao options are not filled or mixed with any additional ingredients, though 60% can come with sea salt.

It's currently one of the most prominent chocolate companies in the United States

It goes without saying that Ghirardelli is one of our favorite chocolate brands. Unlike other chocolate that melts too quickly or is full of cheap ingredients, Ghirardelli's perfected recipes hold their form and are delicious. Since there is a great range of cacao bars and plenty of different flavored options, Ghirardelli is an excellent choice for any chocolate lover. Since there are so many different flavors to choose from, you have an incredible number of options to use in your baking. From chocolate chips to chocolate squares, this chocolate works well in traditional and non-traditional recipes. You can taste the quality in every bite, and while you may not have grown up picking up a Ghirardelli bar at the grocery store checkout, treating yourself to these delicious chocolate goodies is a great way to splurge and enjoy something a little extra special.

If you're looking for a gift idea, Ghirardelli Is always a terrific place to start, offering beautifully packaged assortments that make a perfect present for any occasion. All told, Ghirardelli's line of chocolate uses high-quality, sustainably sourced cocoa beans and is free from GMOs, gluten, and artificial flavors. With Ghirardelli, you can enjoy a delectable treat while supporting sustainable and ethical practices in the chocolate industry.

Official Ghirardelli headquarters recently moved to San Leandro

In 2018, Ghirardelli began a lease on the San Leandro Tech Campus, relocating its global headquarters here. The move was necessary because the company had outgrown its previous offices. This complex is near Oakland, right in downtown San Leandro, a city in Alameda County, California with a population of 90,000 people. 

The campus itself is a modern office complex with updated, modernized facilities. It offers over 200,000 square feet of space with room for 1,000 employees. For easy access, it is also located right off the BART train station for entry back to San Francisco. It also features several sculptures to beautify the campus as part of the San Leandro Art Trail, where the work of local and regional artists is on display. In addition to the corporate offices, San Leandro also has its own Ghirardelli ice cream and factory outlet. Many similar locations to this one are located around the county.

You can take a trip down memory lane at Ghirardelli Square

While the new Ghirardelli headquarters offer beautiful views of the Bay Area, it's more office building than a tourist destination. For a dose of that chocolatey goodness, check out the historic Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco. This area is full of original red brick buildings with a beautiful courtyard connecting the different parts together. Ghirardelli originally opened this factory, but it was further developed in the 1960s to create an incredible dining, shopping, and exploring space.

In the square right off the famous Fisherman's Warf region, you can enjoy an ice cream shop, a Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience, grab something on the go, or even stop into the pop-up shop. There's also miniature golf and restaurants. You can even shop at boutiques and take in the beautiful Andrea Fountain. Obviously, visiting the original square adds a little extra magic, but there are several stores you can visit throughout the country.

Visit a Ghirardelli ice cream shop at Disney for a tasty treat

While Ghirardelli has ice cream shops across the country, there are also three within the Disney resorts. There is one in Disney Springs at Walt Disney World, another in the California Adventure theme park in Anaheim, and a third at the Disney Studio Store in Hollywood. You can order a traditional banana slip or milkshake, and these locations also offer unique menus with a sprinkle of Disney. For example, you'll find sundaes featuring Mickey ears perched right on top of the ice cream. 

We're especially big fans of the Gold Rush sundae. This one is a vanilla ice cream doused in caramel sauce, sea salt, almond, whipped cream, and even a little square. In addition to soda fountains, each one of these stops is a chocolate shop. So you can stock up on chocolate squares, baking mixes, and even syrup for coffee.

Ghirardelli hosts an annual Chocolate Festival

Each year, Ghirardelli puts on a Chocolate Festival held right in the middle of Ghirardelli square. Roughly 40,000 chocolate-loving visitors will stop by to see what the chefs at Ghirardelli are cooking up. Meandering between the 50 different types of booths held by bakeries, restaurants, and chocolatiers within the city, you would be hard-pressed to find a more delicious festival.

If you're interested in learning something while you are there, you can even check out the chocolate school, which is hosted by a Ghirardelli chocolate master. There's probably no one better from which to learn about the Ghirardelli chocolate, after all. Between all the festivities, you can also stop into any of the shops within Ghirardelli Square.

While the festival is a beautiful experience, Ghirardelli Square also offers activities throughout the year. You'll often find musicians rocking out while you shop and enjoy the space. Ghirardelli Square is also a fabulous place to take in art, with regular installations rotating throughout the year.

Lindt & Sprüngli now own Ghirardelli

Golden Grain Company purchased Ghirardelli Chocolate in 1963 and started anew with new equipment. Then, in 1986, Quaker Oats acquired Golden Gran and, by connection, Ghirardelli. Another acquisition came in 1992 when Quaker sold to Thomas H. Lee Company. Ghirardelli's CEO Jack Anton bought out the company in 1996; he was assisted by Hicks, Muse, Tate, & Furst, Inc, a Dallas investment firm. This firm was exceptional at building and then helping companies like Chef Boyardee and Bumble Bee tuna grow. The most recent acquisition occurred in 1998 when Chocoladefabriken Lindt & Sprüngli took over.

Today, Lindt & Sprüngli owns Ghirardelli and several other chocolate brands, including Lindt, Russell Stover, Caffarel, and Hofbauer-Küfferle. Together, these brands are the leading premium chocolate makers and the third-largest chocolate market players overall. With the purchase of Ghirardelli, Lindt & Sprungli was able to successfully and substantially expand into North American markets.

Baking with Ghirardelli elevates your delicious creations

If you're a fan of baking, then you're always on the lookout for new ways to take your creations to the next level. One way to do this is by using high-quality ingredients, and Ghirardelli chocolate is an excellent choice for elevating your baking game.

Ghirardelli chocolate is known for its rich, deep flavor and smooth, velvety texture. When you bake with Ghirardelli chocolate, you'll notice that your desserts have a more intense chocolate flavor and a more luxurious mouthfeel. One of the best aspects of using Ghirardelli chocolate for baking is its incredible versatility. Whether you're making brownies, cookies, cakes, or even savory dishes like chili, adding Ghirardelli chocolate can enhance the flavor and texture of your dishes.

As mentioned earlier, Ghirardelli chocolate comes in a variety of forms, including chocolate chips, baking bars, cocoa powder, brownie mix, and syrups. This means that you can choose the perfect type of chocolate for your recipe, whether you're looking for a smooth, creamy texture or a more intense chocolate flavor. You can also find barista chocolate chips to add tasty, chocolatey garnish to your drinks.

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