Cocoa Loco

indiana chocolate makers have a sweet touch

By Kyle Hendricks

Chocolate has a long, storied history. Believe it or not, some of this history plays out in Indiana.

The bean was first cultivated from cacao plants found in the rain forests of Central America as early as 1900 B.C. Nicknamed the “food of the gods,” chocolate was believed to have supernatural powers and was consumed by ancient Mayans and Aztecs.

The bean migrated from the rain forests of Central America and headed to the cups of the European upper crust. Before their heads rolled, French aristocracy delighted in hot chocolate; this predilection gave Charles Dickens a nearly chapter’s worth of material in “A Tale of Two Cities.” Chocolate consumption truly separated the haves from the have-nots. 

Innovative companies such as Hershey and Nestle democratized chocolate, making it accessible to the common man. Chocolate has since evolved into a worldwide, multibillion dollar industry with endless options of edibles. Here are a few Hoosier businesses connecting Indiana to the great chocolate industry in delicious ways.

Best Chocolate in Town
The name may be boastful, but the shop on Indy’s Mass. Ave. is sweet and welcoming. Here you’ll find heady chocolate truffles infused with intriguing flavors. Think chocolate truffles with cinnamon basil, cabernet balsamic vinegar and gorgonzola (best described as an edgy chocolate cheesecake). The spot is also known for sea salt caramels and truffle pies, owner Elizabeth Garber says. In case you’re wondering, truffle pies are chocolate mousse-like chilled pies made with heavy cream and chocolate.

Garber, a Columbus native, opened the shop in 1998. In support of other Indy-based confectioners, she offers a selection of sweet treats from other producers, including ice cream from Lick and gelato from Gelato Da Vinci. It’s a philosophy of giving Garber has held from a young age. She also donates products to causes she supports.

“I grew up in Columbus wanting to do things for others,” she says. “When I started my own business, I wanted to connect my business to helping local organizations.”

800 Massachusetts Ave., Indianapolis,

DeBrand Fine Chocolates
Cathy Brand-Beere began DeBrand Fine Chocolates in Fort Wayne in 1987, but her history with chocolate started much earlier. She made chocolate candies for her classmates at age 8. Since those early days, Brand-Beere has grown DeBrand into an international business, with three retail stores in Fort Wayne, a mail order division and most recently a wholesale division that supplies DeBrand chocolates to retailers in all 50 states, Canada, Europe and the Middle East.

In the past 29 years, DeBrand has positioned itself as Indiana’s chocolate dynasty, garnering mentions in Oprah Magazine, Midwest Living and USA Today. With intriguing offerings (truffles, hot chocolate on a spoon and the nuanced flavors of the MyBar line), there’s no mystery as to the company’s sweet success. 

Fort Wayne,

Chocolate for the Spirit
Julie Bolejack wants to give back to the world. Her medium for doing so would be chocolate. Her dream was realized in 2009 when she started Chocolate for the Spirit, an artisan chocolate company.

“There’s no one path to chocolate making, but I love learning every day, to constantly evolve and do what I do,” Bolejack says.

Using carefully curated cacao, such as Peru’s rare Fortunato No. 4, Chocolate for the Spirit’s confections are crafted for mindful chocolate lovers. “I don’t consider myself a candy maker,” she says. “I consider myself a chocolatier. I am focused on providing a luxury gourmet chocolate experience from cacao beans with a single origin and distinct profiles.”

Bolejack’s oeuvre includes truffles and bonbons, bars, toffee and gelato. She also offers a chocolate connoisseur class, which takes participants through the history of chocolate as they taste rare chocolates from around the world.

But it’s not all highfalutin and haute — Bolejack often draws inspiration from her Hoosier roots. Chocolate for the Spirit offers football and Indianapolis-themed chocolate selections. “I grew up going to the Indy 500. The Indy bar is my tribute to Indy and racing.”


Endangered Species Chocolate
Indianapolis-based Endangered Species Chocolate is the first American-made chocolate produced using fully traceable, fair-trade beans from West Africa. Founded in Oregon in 1991, the company started small, and the products were only available in the western United States, says Andrea Hawman, ESC public relations manager. In 2005, new owners whisked the business away to Indianapolis.

“The goal was to expand nationally and into Canada, knowing the more ESC made, the more it could give back,” Hawman says. “Indianapolis was a great central shipping location.”

Now a top-selling brand in the natural food category, ESC offers more than 30 products, including chocolate bites, bars and spreads made from fair trade, non-GMO ingredients. You’ve likely seen the bars. Each flavor or variety is wrapped with a label bearing an animal mascot: raspberry and orange-cream filled bars have a red panda peeking out of the label.  The newest dark chocolate bar, dubbed “the eagle bar,” is made with organic caramel and Himalayan sea salt and can be found on, Kroger and Natural Choices for Healthy Living in Columbus. ESC donates 10 percent of net profits to fund species and habitat conservation. Last year’s partners included the African Wildlife Foundation and the Xerxes Society for Invertebrate Conservation.


South Bend Chocolate Co.
In 1991 Mark Tarner obtained a license from the University of Notre Dame giving him clearance to use its name with three of his chocolate products. Thus the South Bend Chocolate Co. began.

Tarner created three pilot items: The Rocknes, a mound of premium American chocolate blended with coconut, almonds and a cherry flavoring; the Domer, a French truffle whipped and covered with smooth milk chocolate; and Nuts for Notre Dame, a coffee blend of American chestnut with Colombian beans.

Building on that success, South Bend Chocolate Co. expanded its product line to more than 500 chocolate and coffee items, including chocolate bars, crunches and coffees by the pound, in baskets and other gift sizes straight from SBCC’s website. The company has multiple corporate and franchised Chocolate Café locations in South Bend, Indianapolis, Michigan and Ohio.

If you’re planning a trip to South Bend, the company offers factory tours. “We do a lot of group and school tours. Summertime is definitely our busiest time. We see everyone from babies to seniors visiting our downtown store in the summer months,” says Jennifer Small, SBCC graphic designer.

South Bend, and Michigan and Ohio,