Dan Abel Jr. acknowledges his family has been unusually lucky.
Case in point: His father, Dan Abel Sr., once won a BMW on a quarter slot machine.
But that’s not all. Sales at Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Co. (CCC), the Abels’ St. Louis-based chocolate business, have exploded, particularly since moving to a facility on The Hill, an Italian neighborhood on the city’s southwest side.
“I always felt luck ran in the family, but you can’t rely on that,” says Dan Jr., v.p. of operations.
The Abels certainly haven’t. President and CEO Dan Sr., who opened CCC in 1981, challenged his children — Dan Jr., Chris and Christina — to grow the business beyond what he and his wife, Rosalie, had created if they wanted to take their own salaries. The Abel children took that to heart.
In 2002, Christina and Dan Sr. ironed out a new franchise agreement, paving the way for CCC to open a total of eight retail locations, including one at the factory site. The Abels also began growing wholesale operations, first by securing some of St. Louis’ prominent attractions and landmarks as clients.
CCC also picked up Lake Forest Confections, a premium chocolate brand, in October 2009. That same month, CCC purchased and started producing Mavrakos, a traditional, yet long-dormant St. Louis brand, much to the joy of the city’s nostalgic citizens.
But the Abels didn’t stop there.
Three years later, CCC relocated to a 30,000-sq.-ft. facility that allowed the company to put retailing, manufacturing and packaging operations under one roof. Dan Jr. says his family looked at dozens of buildings before settling on their current location, a “pristine” facility that boasted six offices, four loading docks and visibility from Interstate 44.
The only problem: The price was two times more than they hoped to spend.
“What (were) we going to do with something this expensive and this big?” Dan Jr asked. But, he steadfastly maintained that if the Abels built into it, more work would come. That’s held true — so far.
Since August 2012, sales have increased tenfold. The Abels have also added three production lines, and private label and contract manufacturing jobs continue to pour in. And that’s on top of fulfilling their regular retail and wholesale obligations.
The Abels say a shared vision and familial collaboration has led to their success; but Dan Sr. has an additional explanation.
“The harder we work, the luckier we are,” he says.
Equipment investments are also a piece of the puzzle, and the Abels haven’t shied away from it.
Having started with two 10-inch Hilliard enrobing lines, CCC needed more capacity to boost business and keep up with resulting demand. In 2012, the Abels added a 100-ft.-long Hilliard enrober with a 16-inch-wide belt — the largest unit Hilliard has ever made. It churns out 3 to 6.5 pounds of coated confections per minute.
In 2014, the Abels added a 24-in. Savage W.C. Smith enrober with a pre-bottomer, cold plate and cooling tunnel. But a year later, they were again in the market for new equipment. Specifically, a Knobel shell moulder.
After negotiations to purchase a pre-owned Knobel shell moulding line slowed in early 2016, the Abels ordered their own — an Alpha Compact depositor with a 165-ft. spiral cooling tunnel. In fact, CCC was one of the first companies to install the entire line.
However, in the spring, negotiations resumed, and CCC took on another Knobel Alpha depositor, which has allowed the company known for truffles to release a new line of 3.5-oz. craft chocolate bars. Packaged in boxes with a clean, elegant design, the new flavors include:
- Milk Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel
- Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel
- Dark Chocolate Strawberry Champagne Truffle
- Dark Chocolate Blood Orange Caramel
- Dark Chocolate Key Lime Pie Truffle
- Dark Bee-Berry Honey Caramel
- Milk Chocolate Waffle Cone
- Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana
- Milk Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Latte Truffle
- Peppermint Bark with Milk and Dark Chocolate
Though already available online and through one of CCC’s distributors, the company plans to officially launch them at this month’s Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco.
“I can’t wait for these get to the market,” Dan Jr. says.
Though CCC already has much to juggle, they have no plans to slow down. The Abels are searching for another building with the goal of developing a storage and distribution center. Packaging operations would then move to the current storage area, which in late September was stacked nearly to the ceiling.
Dan Jr. also notes the company hasn’t “scratched the surface” on its private label and contract manufacturing businesses, and new opportunities continue to present themselves.
“It’s been a heck of a journey,” he says.
And luck simply played a small part in it.