ROBBINSVILLE – It was a sweet assignment that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno was apparently enjoying immensely.
In an effort to highlight the importance of small family-owned businesses, Guadagno embarked on factory tours of three Garden State chocolate-makers as they were gearing up for the Valentine’s Day rush, including Robbinsville’s own David Bradley Chocolatier in the Windsor Industrial Park.
“I wanted to point out the contributions these small chocolate manufacturers make to our economy,” Guadagno said. “Purchasing ingredients and supplies locally provides economic opportunities for New Jersey workers and businesses and helps to advance our local economies.”
David Bradley Chocolatier, a retail storefront and factory, has been a family-run operation for more than 30 years. Siblings David Hicks, Christine O’Brian and Bradley Hicks are currently running the business that their retired parents, Bob and Marcy, and their late grandmother, Alma, started in 1977.
Guadagno and her entourage swooped in hours before the Feb. 8 nor’easter hit to take a tour of the factory where the Hicks family manufactures and ships gourmet chocolates to more than 500 businesses nationwide. Mayor Dave Fried, Councilwoman Chris Ciaccio and Police Chief Martin Masseroni were among the local officials on hand to welcome her to Robbinsville.
David Hicks told Guadagno his company uses a local produce seller to obtain the strawberries, apples, grapes, pineapples and oranges his employees hand-dip in dark and milk chocolate. The paper products used to package David Bradley confections come from a local Trenton company, he said.
Hicks brought Guadagno to the factory floor where workers wearing clear elastic caps and aprons were making trays of chocolate-covered caramel Granny Smith apples, chocolate nonpareils, and chocolate-covered red seedless grapes by dipping the fruit under spinning wheels of cascading milk and dark chocolate.
The lieutenant governor chatted amicably with the workers about the various steps in the chocolate-making process and listened intently as the owners talked about the challenges faced by companies seeking to grow their businesses in the face of higher rents that prime highway locations command.
O’Brian said if the company were able to move from its out-of-the-way location in the industrial park to a more visible property on Route 130 it would be a boon for its retail sales, but she quickly added that she would never want to leave Robbinsville Township.
Mayor Fried and Councilwoman Ciaccio told the lieutenant governor the chocolate company has always shown a strong sense of civic commitment, most recently donating complimentary gift bags of gummy worms for hundreds of children who attended the township’s fishing derby last summer at the Town Center lake.
No chocolate tour would be complete without samples, and the Hicks siblings had a long table of treats lined up for the tasting, including chocolate-covered potato chips, pretzels, graham crackers, caramels, coconut clusters, peanut butter smoothies, nut clusters, marshmallows, Oreos, buttercreams, and more.
Even though Guadagno had just come from a chocolate factory in Freehold, and was headed to another in Brick Township later in the afternoon, she gamely fulfilled her official state duties and popped a chocolate in her mouth.
“This is really good!” Guadagno said, as she quickly called her staff over to come try some as well.