With a new Hainesport production facility, and a Passyunk Avenue shop, the Collingswood couple that incubated a small business in Haddon Township stands on the threshold of a national presence.
By Matt Skoufalos | October 5, 2023
Since 2012, when Melissa and Chuck Crandley of Collingswood established a gourmet sweets brand based on the combination of their first names, it’s been a decade-plus of continuous growth for Mecha Chocolate.
For seven years, the business grew through farmers markets and wholesaling, until its operations could only take their next steps forward in a customer-facing retail shop, which opened in downtown Haddonfield in October 2019.
Within a year of working there, the Crandleys knew that, as well as business in Haddonfield was treating them, they would need more space to keep things going.
“We realized we were out-growing the space tremendously, and couldn’t expand shipping because we had no room to ship,” Melissa said.
“We wanted to open a second location, but didn’t know how we would be able to produce out of that [Haddonfield] space for two locations because we were already at capacity.”
The problem was twofold: chocolatiers were hand-dipping every piece of chocolate made in the Haddonfield shop, where production space was already too limited to absorb the room necessary to store its packaging. Moreover, the physical labor behind chocolate production was taking its toll on staff.
In order to grow the business, Mecha needed to automate its processes.
After some searching, the Crandleys found an old Sears carpet and upholstery warehouse on Route 38 in Hainesport. They subdivided the production space, leveled and refinished the floors, installed a new HVAC system, and outfitted it with state-of-the-art Selmi chocolate manufacturing equipment.
One year later, the entire business operation is ramping up.
“We calibrate the machines and put the final touches on the process, so we know it’s exactly how it was when we hand-dipped,” Melissa said.
“They look a little bit nicer, and it’s quicker.”
The comfit machine, which looks like a stainless steel cement mixer, is used to create spherical, coated chocolate products, like espresso beans, blueberries, and almonds.
The ball refiner finely grinds particulate matter to create smooth chocolate spreads, like hazelnut chocolate or cherry biscoff. A chocolate tempering machine keeps liquid chocolate at the correct temperature to produce a hard, shiny finished product.
The star of the show, however, is the 30-feet-long enrobing machine, which drizzles melted chocolate over another confection that is then sent down a conveyor belt into a cooling tunnel. With it, three people can dip 2,200 chocolates in four hours, completing in an afternoon work that would have taken a week in the Haddonfield shop.
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The equipment upgrades not only ensure a higher-quality and more consistent result, but they also allow Mecha to expand its offerings to more than 50 chocolate flavors across 100-plus products. The business now supports more employees who enjoy better perks and more freedom to experiment with new ideas in the kitchen.
“It’s more than just building out a building,” Melissa said. “This came from the need to expand, the need to improve our process, and to let our creative juices go.”
“By building out this facility, we’re going to help supply more careers for people, and we’re growing into [benefits like] 401k, healthcare, dental, paid education, and vacation time off.
Head Chocolatier Taylour Chew joined Mecha after a decade at Starbucks; after four years, she rose through the ranks to effectively run the shop kitchen.
“Meeting Melissa, you knew the product was good, the company was good; you knew it had a future,” Chew said.
“It’s gone from just the two of us in the kitchen to now having a team that’s all working to keep helping this grow.
“Because of the growth, we’re able to step it up each year,” she said.
“We want to continue to bring more intricate and new flavors and new lines so that we can expand on what we’ve already done.”
Recent Walnut Hill College graduate Nicolette Belperio said the chocolate education she’s gotten working at Mecha is far more expansive than the 10-week course she had in school.
“I’m having a great time; I’m excited to be here,” Belperio said. “It’s more intricate, and there’s more attention to detail.”
“Chocolate is its own world,” Melissa said. “We are trying to create a good work environment in this industry. Now our staff can focus on creativity instead of the unskilled stuff we don’t need to be doing.”
“I’m bringing in some [culinary] students to come check out the facility and say, ‘Hey, there’s some other career options if you don’t want to work in a restaurant; if you don’t want to work nights and weekends.’ There’s not a lot of chocolate people in this area. It’s nice to learn a new skill.”
Ramping up production and hiring will also support Mecha’s second location, which will open at 1618 East Passyunk Avenue in Philadelphia at the end of October.
The former Green Aisle Grocer shop will be refitted as a small retail space from which to offer chocolate to the neighborhood.
These are the first steps in what Melissa sees as a chance to take the brand nationwide.
“We’ve been wanting to open a second location for so long, but couldn’t do it,” Melissa said.
“We’re able to see, year-over-year, the growth allowing us to do this; putting in the hard work that we’ve put in and getting the rewards of that.”
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