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John Kelly Chocolates Defines American Branding

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IMG_2509 (1)(Gerry Furth-Sides) Smart brown and white awning signage announces John Kelly Chocolates at the company’s five-year-old “factory store,” on a quiet, residential Hollywood street off the Boulevard. Even the exterior announces that everything is about presentation. The clean, classic Spanish red tiled roof and tiles on the white stucco wall give a sense of Southern California place, but more as we expect it in snazzy Santa Barbara than nearby “Hollyweird,” complete with tour busses trolling past.


Inside the tiny boutique, trays of chocolates and champagne greet visitors even before the floor-to-ceiling shelves of boxed candy or the gleaming candy counter comes into view, complete with a video of media appearances on one side. IMG_2490IMG_2489John Kelly Chocolates, founder-owners, John Kelson and Kelly Green, stand around the glass, introducing themselves through their chocolates. (And you have to really search to find their last names now that they have become the company.)  Behind them in the factory, 12,000-16,000 pieces of chocolate are being processed as part of the day’s output.

IMG_2522I knew I was standing in front of c0-owner, John Kelson, but I kept seeing Mario Cantone (Charlotte’s friend, Anthony on “Sex and the City” and hearing his rapid fire delivery.

He regales the group munching down on chocolate with his story, “that all started when we tasted a friend’s family truffle fudge recipe that was so good we thought we could turn it into a business.” The uniqueness about the candy was that the silky, creamy smooth fudge – “as smooth as ganache” – was encased in chocolate and made fresh to earn the label, “artisanal.” And succeed they did because both entrepreneurs had the drive and the know-how from long corporate careers, rather than food background.  Green had worked in advertising and Kelson in luxury-good sales – and knew their niche well.   They branded with a capital “B” from the start, and started at the top with Neiman-Marcus sales in Beverly Hills.

Still, official accolades are more than local: The signature flavor Dark Chocolate with French Grey Sea Salt earned Gold and Silver Sofi Awards (NASFT) in 2009. The Kosher and gluten-free version of their specialty truffle fudge, is offered in 17 flavors. There’s buttery caramel top-layered truffle fudge, covered in chocolate and sprinkled with a pinch of coarse grain Hawaiian Alaea sea salt. Nothing like salt and chocolate! There’s Peanut Butter with Himalayan Pink Salt, made with white chocolate.

For the current season, there is a pumpkin spiced flavor.   Two other new flavors also fit in, the mild, smoky Dark Chocolate with Chipotle and Ancho Chiles, and a more sizzling rendition made with Habanero and Jalapeno Chiles, so hot the workers have to wear gloves and masks while preparing it.  Caramel filled bunnies arrive at Easter with hand-painted eyes.

Kelly emphasized that John Kelly keeps up with the trends.  For example, “even though we had a minute amount of corn syrup in our candy, we stopped using it altogether.

Still, during the factory tour, both John and Kelly continually seemed to express surprise that celebrities and “people from Belgium who previously never liked American chocolate,” love their chocolate and no matter how big they build their “towers,” which are made out of boxes of chocolate, customers want to go bigger.

Onlookers inspired them to build the cute site retail boutique next to the factory in 2010. “And we had to build everything from the ground up,” said Kelly. But the short time it took to build this national business (now including online for themselves and for major retailers) is the short time it has taken. Kudos.  The foil-wrapper machine is described as “antique” but it is from the 60’s.

IMG_2546IMG_2548John Kelly joins the ranks of well-known Los Angeles artisan chocolate makers like the miraculous Valerie Confection and Patrcia Tsai (who grows her own cacao beans in Mexico), and the best kept French truffle maker and baker secret of international renown, who offers wholesale prices to the public.

To give an idea of price, single1-oz. salted truffle fudge bars are priced at $3, and 2-oz. non-salted bars are $3.50. Gift-wrapped boxes start at $6.50 for one 2-oz. truffle fudge.

For more information, please see johnkellychocolates.com.

Pictures are worth more than words when it comes to chocolate.  John Kelson and Kelly Green,  who combined marketing and ad force talents to become premiere Hollywood Chocolatiers, John Kelly Chocolates.  Pumpkin Spice Truffle Fudge is the new seasonal flavor of their chocolate wrapped fudge, made daily in their Hollywood factory.   www.JohnKellyChocolates.com


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