Monday, April 9, 2007
Great Chocolate, But Where are the Oompa Loompas?
Ghirardelli Square, once a major chocolate manufacturing center, and now an historical landmark and tourist attraction, is one of the most recognizable spots in the city. Every year, thousands of people visit the square, including tourists visiting nearby Fisherman's Wharf.
According to the company website, the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company moved to the location in 1893 after a 40 year history at other locations in San Francisco. Ghirardelli began its San Francisco journey when Domingo Ghirardelli opened a confectionery company at Kearny and Washington streets in 1852. This was just a year after Ghirardelli, who came to California seeking gold during the great California Gold Rush of 1848, lost both his San Francisco and Stockton stores to fire. Amazingly, the Stockton fire, which destroyed half the city, occurred just three days after the fire that destroyed 1500 buildings in San Francisco.
My trip to Ghirardelli Square began with a stop at Lori's Diner, a 50's nostalgia restaurant with an amazing view overlooking Alcatraz Island. Lori's has locations across the city, and started in 1986 with a store on Mason Street. The food and service were excellent, and the bay view through the picture window made the dinner even more enjoyable.
The square is currently undergoing construction and renovation, which will result in the installation of an upscale residential area. All the stores and restaurants are still open during construction, and signs ask visitors to "pardon the mess, we're sweetening the square."
Visitors to the square are often confronted with long lines to enter the Ghirardelli chocolate shop and ice cream parlor. Inside, patrons can watch the chocolate being made by large machines cordoned off by a rail to prevent onlookers from getting too close. The chocolate is mixed in a large vat clearly visible from the first floor of the establishment, an enticing sight that visitors can watch as they wait for their ice cream.
During its over 150 year history, Ghirardelli has remained at the cutting edge of confectionery technology. Ghirardelli was the first company to discover a means to create ground chocolate, using the so-called "Broma Process." This entails hanging a bag of chocolate in a warm room, allowing the cocoa butter to drip out. The residue can then be processed into ground chocolate for a variety of uses, including chocolate drinks.
"It starts with choosing good beans," said Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop receptionist Abrehet Tedeila. Tedeila said that customer service comes naturally in a place where visitors walk in with smiles on their faces. "I like talking to people, answering their questions, and letting them know what the best chocolate is. People come here to buy their chocolate because it's the best."