All about ghirardelli chocolate

All about ghirardelli chocolate

Ghirardelli chocolate has a long history behind why it’s so yummy. Here’s how this homegrown company got started over a century and half ago.

Photo Credit: Jaimie D. Travis
By Christina Hamlett


You see them at every airport, those brightly colored bars or individual square pieces of chocolate that provide just the boost you need to make that next connection. Even before you unpeel the wrapper, your taste buds know it’s going to be good. Why? Because it’s Ghirardelli, that famous chocolate from San Francisco known the world over. Established over a century and a half ago, Ghirardelli chocolate is the signature chocolate of America. Here’s how it all began.

The patriarch of the Ghirardelli chocolate empire, Domenico Ghirardelli, was born near Genoa, Italy in 1817. By 1848, he had worked his way to the California Gold Country through a series of ventures starting in South America. It was there that he changed his first name to its Spanish equivalent “Domingo”, likely an effort to better market his products in South America. It was in Peru that he met James Lick, a piano maker, who owned a cabinet shop next to Ghirardelli. When Lick learned of the Gold Rush, he left with 600 pounds of Ghirardelli chocolate. Soon, Lick convinced Ghirardelli to come to California. Four years later, at the age of 35, and after a series of failed ventures, he started his own confectionery company called Ghirardelli and Ghirard. His success allowed him to buy out his partner and bring his wife from Peru in 1855, forming Mrs. Ghirardelli & Company.

The company settled in on Jackson Street in San Francisco, where it remained for 50 years, from 1856-1896. When it was built, the original factory was the largest in the western United States. The building itself still stands, surviving the great earthquake of 1906 and today housing a variety antique galleries. From the first, Ghirardelli & Company was an astounding success and soon it was exporting chocolate to British Columbia, Hawaii, and Mexico.

It was during this time, in 1865, that Ghirardelli came upon a revelation – he observed that if chocolate were left hanging in a bag in a warm room the cocoa butter would drip out, leaving a pure chocolate residue that could subsequently be processed into powdered chocolate. Ghirardelli obtained a patent on what was known as the Broma process, and powdered chocolate soon became the focal point of his ever expanding chocolate empire.

By 1893, Ghirardelli’s sons had become partners in the business and it was time to find a new building to accommodate the now global demand for their chocolate products. They purchased the Pioneer Woolen Mill building on San Francisco’s north waterfront. That was the first step in an expansion program that would continue for the next 30 years. In 1923, the lighted “Ghirardelli” sign was erected. At 15 feet tall and 125 feet long, the sign was and still is a beacon for ships entering the Golden Gate, dimmed only for security reasons during the Second World War.

The Ghirardelli factory included its own power station and an apartment building for its factory workers. It was around 1915 that the Clock Tower, modeled after the Chateau Bois in France, was added. The Clock Tower and the illuminated sign remain the most visible symbols of Ghirardelli’s lasting contribution to San Francisco and are as much a part of that city’s landscape as Coit Tower and the Golden Gate Bridge.

By the 1960’s, the manufacturing operations moved to a new facility in nearby San Leandro. When word got out that the old factory might be sold in order to make way for condominiums, the community was galvanized and, through the generosity of wealthy San Franciscans who purchased the property, it was transformed into what is now Ghirardelli Square, a combination of history, shops, and fine eating establishments. Now a preserved historic landmark, Ghirardelli Square remains faithful to its roots – a small manufacturing facility still operates on the grounds, and an original chocolate grinder from France, bought by Domenico in 1860, is on display.

Today, Ghirardelli Chocolate is part of Lindt & Sprungli, the world’s leader in the manufacturing of premium chocolate products, headquartered in Switzerland. Lindt & Sprungli began as a small chocolate shop in Zurich in 1845, about the same time Ghirardelli was operating his confectionery store in Peru. Lindt & Sprungli has 6 production sites in Europe and 2 in the United States, shipping premium chocolate products to over 80 nations around the world.

Ghirardelli is still one of the few confectioners who control the entire chocolate-making process, from the cocoa bean to the finished product. Now with over 700 employees, Ghirardelli ships approximately 62 million pounds of chocolate annually nationwide. You can find their products online, in many grocery stores and specialty shops, and at their own Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shops located in several cities in California and Florida, as well as other select cities, including Chicago and Las Vegas. Their flagship store is the Chocolate Manufactory at Ghirardelli Square. Whether you are buying their trademark Squares®, chocolate powder, or other confections, you will enjoy the unsurpassed quality that comes from their proprietary bean blends and unique roasting and processing methods. Ghirardelli also supplies chocolate products to the confectionery, bakery, dairy and food service industries.

Even though Ghirardelli & Company is now part of an international holding company and delivers its product throughout the world, it also has the distinction of being one of the very few California businesses that has been in continuous operation since before California itself became part of the United States.

No discussion about this historically delicious product, of course, would be complete without a brief word on the pronunciation of its name. In 1852, Ghirardelli opened his shop under the name “Ghirardely & Girard” in a futile effort to get people to say his name correctly. The name is pronounced with a hard “g”, not like a “j” as so many people have done for over 100 years. No matter what you call it, though, Ghirardelli & Company remains America’s foremost premium chocolate company.

© Copyright 2009. All Rights Reserved.

Contact Us | Terms & Conditions | Back Issues |

What do you think?

Healthy Meals for Families

How to start plants from seeds