Many of those who launch artisanal chocolate shops, including Mimi Wheeler, are inspired by a love for chocolate, not business. Wheeler left her 25-year career as a social worker to create Grocer's Daughter, a shop in Empire, Mich. Customers come by regularly, some have turned into unpaid helpers and some joined her staff.
"I saw an immense spirit of helpfulness and generosity," she says. She enlisted friends to join "tasting teams," and one of them convinced her to paint the leased shop a brilliant green. Her friendships also helped her land her first wholesale account: Zingerman's Delicatessen.
Her shop is open seven days a week, and sales increased 40% last year. Wheeler grows herbs there, which show up in the chocolates: lavender, basil, rosemary, and mint. Grocer's Daughter employs some "very creative chocolatiers," Wheeler says, including some teens who started visiting the shop and ended up working there. They've developed a chocolate chili rub meat marinade and started using teas in chocolate. "People come and say, 'What's new this week?' says Wheeler.