EMPIRE — Mimi Wheeler didn’t want her business, the focus of a decade of her life, to go to just anybody.
The founder of Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate in Empire watched with relief Saturday as new owners and longtime friends Jody Dotson and DC Hayden catered to the steady stream of customers from behind a glass case filled with handcrafted artisan chocolates. Outside, traffic spilled over from the small parking lot onto the adjoining grass and the shoulder of M-22.
“I’m feeling intense happiness,” said Wheeler, who sold the store in the spring to semi-retire. “This whole business grew pretty dramatically, especially the last few years. This has been an exciting journey but it grew a lot and I was overwhelmed.”
Wheeler, whose aunt was a pastry chef, opened the store in 2004 after a career in social work and a stint making chocolates from a rented kitchen in Glen Arbor. She made her first delivery to Zingerman’s, an Ann Arbor deli and food mail-order emporium, before hanging out her shingle.
Soon after, the business began to take off with its candies made from chocolate sourced from Ecuador, Venezuela and Colombia, and ingredients from local farmers. Its signature truffles, bars, barks, puddles and nibblers contain local herbs, dried berries, fruit preserves, cream and honey from places like Sleeping Bear Farms and Shetler Family Dairy.
She also incorporated local wines, teas and spirits including whiskey from Grand Traverse Distillery, Cherry Cerise from Chateau Chantal and “Hummingbird Nectar” and chai tea from Light of Day Organics and Great Lakes Tea and Spice.
Dotson, 37, a founder of Higher Grounds Coffee, said she and Hayden plan to build on Wheeler’s legacy while creating their own.
“I’ve always been a fan of Grocer’s Daughter,” she said, noting that she and Wheeler met while establishing their separate businesses. They later led food trips together to Ecuador. “I didn’t want to see Grocer’s Daughter go to someone who didn’t care about the community and the impact that a small business has on the community.