Nowadays it’s hard to find companies that are operated locally and have a long history operating as such. In Salem, Massachusetts, Harbor Sweets, a chocolate operator since 1973 still makes handmade chocolatey delicacies despite tumultuous changes in the economy. No matter the ups and downs in life, it seems like everyone always needs some chocolate!
I was still living in Massachusetts when I first sought out Salem due to my infatuation with Halloween. I was on a Halloween reality show called Halloween Superstar just incase you needed to know how far my obsession went. My love of Halloween and chocolate is no secret. It was on that first visit to Salem however, that my father and I visited Harbor Sweets which was tucked away from the downtown hustle and bustle. I can still remember why we sought them out in the first place- it was because of their Sweet Sloops. Sailboat shaped almond butter crunch with a mainsail and jib of white chocolate floating in dark chocolate with pecan spindrift washing her sides, can we say New England deliciousness? It was all because a friend of mine popped some of them out of the freezer on a stifling summer day and told me that I had to try them. After that, I never looked back.
It was wonderful walking into the factory and gift shop for the first time with hints of chocolate in the air. We made our purchases, sampled a bunch, and made sure this brand stayed on our radar. Coincidentally enough it was shortly thereafter that I became friends with the owner and CEO of Harbor Sweets, Phyllis LeBlanc. When we first met it was over horses, not chocolate surprisingly enough! Though, Harbor Sweets‘ line of Dark Horse Chocolates has a dedicated horse centric collection with flavors such as Peppermint Ponies, Dressage Classics, Grand Prix Jumpers, Peanut Butter Sea Biscuits and the Milk Chocolate Hunt Collection (Fox Trot, TallyHo and Full Cry). We became friends of course, worked together through the New England Dressage Association for a number of years, and eventually I was able to take a full tour of the factory. It was all so I could tell you everything I could find out about Harbor Sweets and they’re great chocolates!
For me it was great fun to see the inner workings of this company, and awe inspiring to see how much chocolate they can pump out in such a little space. I was fortunate enough to work in a New England manufacturing mill whose heritage ran back to 1856. From this experience I was able to gain certain perspective seeing the older buildings working for new purpose, which is exactly what Harbor Sweets did. They aren’t fancy and full of excessive frills, but they get the job done producing stellar products all with friendly faces at the helm. There’s a certain kinship that you see at Harbor Sweets when you’re able to through, not to mention a Willy Wonka-esque feeling of chocolate all around.
When you walk in the public entrance, you’re greeted by the gift shop that overlooks the factory. From there you can see almond butter crunch being scored (cut while it’s warm so that when it cools it breaks into your desired shape). At this station was also a place for trials and tribulations for new flavors, sadly there were no tastings taking place that day, but it was fun seeing how they started coming together. To the left of the room, you could see a number of employees in the filling/molding room where chocolates were being placed into molds, tapped out to release air bubbles, and filled with all sorts of goodies.
Farther along on the tour you see the conveyor belt where the almond butter crunch receives its waterfall of white chocolate and the employees working similarly to the I Love Lucy skit, the inspecting, not the eating. From there, the Sweet Sloops are dipped by hand into the dark chocolate and pecan bits before they head off to be wrapped.
Farther in the back you have the friendly faces in shipping/receiving, and a newer machine which helps to form the chocolate pieces that go into their Trail Mix. There’s the wrapping and staging area, and finally the offices upstairs. As I said, it’s not the size that matters here, but it’s the care and dedicated nature of the team behind the chocolate and what they’re producing.
Ben Strohecker was was the man who founded Harbor Sweets in 1973 at his home in Marblehead, MA. He eventually outgrew his kitchen making Harbor Sweets’ famed Sweet Sloops. I was impressed in watching them make these that in order to make the mast on the sail, they run a silver teaspoon run from the base to the apex of the chocolate to create them. Every single chocolate is made hand at this $3 million a year company, which makes two million Sweet Sloops alone! It’s ALMOST too much chocolate to understand!
For those of who aren’t planning a trip to Salem, you can watch this video clip of the tour I just explained, or just browse through their awesome catalog. But if you are in fact planning a trip to New England, Harbor Sweets chocolates can be found in tons of specialty stores and gift shops, or at their home location. If they don’t carry them in a gift store near you, demand they start carrying them, or buy them online. However, I’ll always recommend starting with a bag of Sweet Sloops to let them take you on a journey of chocolatey New England bliss! Chocolatey Sails Away!