Holiday Chocolate in Cleveland

Dan Malley of Cleveland grew up in a gourmet chocolate store. Now he's a third-generation president of the family business and has been nicknamed the "chocolate czar," reports Crain's Cleveland Business journal.

One of his earliest childhood memories is working at Malley’s Chocolates, the business his grandfather founded in 1935 in Lakewood, Ohio, by stuffing fake grass into Easter gift bags for one cent apiece.

“I’d work all day, make a dollar and think that was big money. My parents realized early on that it was cheaper to put us to work than to pay a babysitter,” he joked.

Many Easter seasons later, his 6-year-old daughter is currently carrying on the family tradition, selling Malley’s chocolate online as part of a fundraiser for her school. As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Even as Malley's has rapidly grown and adapted to higher-tech marketing, its old-fashioned chocolate-making techniques, Northeast Ohio home base and family atmosphere are forever entrenched.

Dan Malley hangs a portrait of his grandfather and the company founder, Albert Martin (Mike) Malley, in each chocolate shop as a reminder that Malley's remains true to its roots.

“We’re Clevelanders, and we’re not going anywhere,” Malley said.

Since graduating from college in 1985, Dan Malley has known but one place of employment. He began his post-college career making gourmet chocolate confections for the company and has risen through the ranks ever since. His father, William Malley, was the company’s president from 1967-1996 before bestowing the title to wife Adele. The reins were officially handed down to Dan Malley in 2003 and other family members play integral roles. Dan Malley’s sister is in charge of information technology, while his two brothers head the corporate sales and fundraising efforts.

Longtime customers remain loyal to this family business.

“My grandfather started buying chocolate gifts from Malley's for business folks in the '50s and we’ve been doing it every year since,” said Frank Sullivan, CEO of RPM International Inc., a Medina, Ohio, company. “We send out more than 400 boxes a year for the holidays and we get cards from all over the world, even from places like Belgium and Switzerland, marveling at this great chocolate -- that’s made here in Cleveland."

To further illustrate the company's commitment to tradition, Schirmer Construction Company of North Olmsted, Ohio, the builder of each new Malley’s store, is also a third-generation family business -- and the one that built the original shop in 1935.


The company is known for spectacular customer events, many conceptualized by Malley. Since 2001, the Malley’s store in Brook Park, Ohio (where the company is based) has set up "strawberry drive-throughs" for Valentine’s Day. Customers can buy chocolate covered strawberries 12 hours a day on February 13 and 14. This year about 20,000 people came. But the company's chocolate candy and treats are not just February features; with March upon us, we can start thinking about another marquee chocolate event: Easter.

“Bunnyland” is another Malley's signature. On Wednesday-Saturday before Easter, the event features more than 100 tables of chocolate bunnies, marshmallow eggs and other Easter treats -- all under an enormous climate-controlled tent. The family-friendly festivities, where lucky Ohioans can sample the Easter chocolate offerings and meet the Easter Bunny and dance the Bunny Hop, are attended by tens of thousands.

But don't think Malley's is entirely old-fashioned.

“We’re wrapping our arms around technology. It’s not a fad, and the Internet is a huge opportunity to increase sales and get branding,” Dan Malley said.

As seen in many industries, online fundraising programs eliminate piles of pesky paperwork and the obvious restrictions of typical marketing campaigns based on geography. For Malley's, the web allows clubs and organizations to tap their entire network simply by e-mailing links to the fundraising web site. Their North Olmsted location even provides free wireless access so customers can surf the web while scrumptiously snacking on chocolate bars and/or ice cream.


Dan Malley has the respect of his chocolate industry peers because of his innovation and dedication to his craft. Terry Craft, owner of Hudson Valley Chocolatiers in Beacon, N.Y., believes Malley, who he has known for more than 10 years, is an astute businessman as well as a great ambassador for the confection industry as a whole.

“He never rests,” Mr. Craft said of Mr. Malley. “He’s constantly coming up with ways to be innovative and raise the bar in our industry.”

It was Craft that bestowed the nickname of "Czar" upon Malley, during a period where Craft served as president of the Retail Confectioners International trade association. He felt the title of vice president, which Malley held up until 2003, was unfitting for his respected colleague.

“The title vice president doesn’t mean much unless you’re Dick Cheney. I wanted to give him a title with more impact, so I named him ‘the Chocolate Czar,’” Craft said.

That's high praise. But don't expect this Czar/President to rest on his laurels anytime soon.

The new Brunswick, Ohio location, its most recent opening, brings Malley’s number of retail establishments up to 17. Two more stores are set to open later this year, and while Malley will not disclose his family's current or projected revenue, one can assume the company is thriving. Just in time for Easter, the recently opened stores are featuring a pink and green motif, sophisticated lighting, and mirrors to make the all the chocolate candy creations stand out.

Also present, of course, is a portrait of the company’s founder. Malley's wouldn't have it any other way.