Popcorn Never Had It So Sweet: A Visit to Peterbrooke’s New Headquarters

Peterbrooke has expanded their operations with a new factory on Copeland Street, a 28,000 square foot facility that will house their corporate offices, and is currently their base of operations for candy-making. By late 2016, it will be open for tours and events, from corporate meetings to classes and much more.

The tour will begin with Peterbrooke’s signature item: a look into the chocolate popcorn room through glass windows. They isolate it from the main areas because popcorn tends to pick up scents very easily. Sealing the room off keeps the chocolate popcorn from tasting minty if they are doing mint chocolate on the main factory floor. Workers cover the popcorn using a wand that pipes liquid chocolate through from a giant vat dubbed “Big Jahn.” The vat holds 3,000 pounds of constantly churning melted chocolate. Once the popcorn is covered in chocolate, they then supervise it on a vibrating machine to get the chocolate in all the crevices. From there, it goes on to a rack, which is then rolled into a cold room to solidify the chocolate. Quality control is an important part of the chocolate popcorn process, and that which doesn’t make the grade get bagged up and won’t be sold to the public, explains Andy Stenson, the VP of Marketing for Peterbrooke.

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“Most people haven’t even ever seen a cocoa bean in its natural state, and we think it’s important for those on the tour to know where it all begins—from farm to chocolate bar.”

The tour moves to a small room where tour-goers can view a cocoa tree and pictures of the chocolate process, from bean to bar. “Most people haven’t even ever seen a cocoa bean in its natural state, and we think it’s important for those on the tour to know where it all begins—from farm to chocolate bar,” says Elizabeth Cordell, Marketing Manager of Hickory Foods, the parent company of Peterbrooke. The beans Peterbrooke uses are certified UTZ—the largest sustainable certification program for cocoa beans. The beans are conflict-free, and follow sustainable farming practices. (Peterbrooke products are also Kosher!)

Next, tour-goers can view the new bakery, headed up by Anita Adams, former owner of Let Them Eat Cake. Adams says she’s continuing her tradition of “European-style, natural ingredient” baked goods, while incorporating Peterbrooke items for “little twists” on that traditional flavor (such as the chocolate-covered brownies).

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Chocolate enrobes pretzels on the main factory floor, while in a small room off to the side, a few hands are devoted to the molding room, where special orders with corporate logos or molded chocolates (such as their chocolate footballs) are poured by hand.

According to Brian Johnson, Factory Manager of Peterbrooke, the factory itself employs about 30 workers. During their high seasons they tend to pick up more employees. Christmas and Valentine’s Day are the two busiest times for their e-commerce division, so they have a space devoted to shipping out those confections ordered via the internet.

Peterbrooke Gelato

“Gelato should be made fresh, served fresh—with no preservatives or additives.”

Also on site is Rick Consolo, Gelatiere. He takes the job of stocking 18-plus stores with fresh gelato very seriously. “Gelato should be made fresh, served fresh—with no preservatives or additives,” he says, offering us a sample of his latest batch of pistachio gelato. It’s rich and dense as gelato should be. Sweet, but not so sweet that it doesn’t allow the pistachio to sing, with just a dash of salt.

Later in the build out, a retail space will be added to the grounds, so that tour-goers and visitors alike can take home a little Peterbrooke sweetness for themselves and so that the denizens of the nearby Brooklyn neighborhood can drop by to buy whatever confections they might desire.

Phyllis Geiger opened Peterbrooke Chocolatier’s first location in San Marco back in 1983, named after her two children with offerings of gourmet chocolate packed in boxes, drizzled on popcorn, and poured on strawberries that became a staple of Jacksonville sweets lovers. Peterbrooke has five company-owned stores, all in Jacksonville, and 20 franchise stores —one in Alabama, one north of Atlanta, and the rest in Florida. After 26 years, Geiger has sold her Jacksonville locations to Billy Morris, owner of Bubba Burger and its parent, Hickory Foods.

For more information on future tours for kids, adults, programs, and other events in late 2016 or early 2017, contact [email protected]

About Erin Thursby

october, 2021

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