|By MICHELLE EVANS
FORT WAYNE, Ind. — A passion for chocolate and an artistic flair led Cathy Brand Beere to open her first retail shop 15 years ago as a way to sell her chocolate masterpieces now shipped worldwide.
Beere, who co-owns DeBrand Fine Chocolates with her husband Tim, began experimenting and making chocolates at the age of 8. Her parents owned a confectionary supply business that allowed her to dabble in the art of making sweets, especially chocolates.
“I had the opportunity to play with different products,” said Beere, who touts her gourmet chocolates are like any one would find in a French, Belgium or Swiss pasterie.
In 1987, Beere and her fiancée Tim opened the first DeBrand location on Wells Street in Fort Wayne. The name DeBrand comes from adding “De,” the French prefix for “from,” to her maiden name.
“Growing up around chocolate and growing up in a small family business, it just seemed natural to start a business with something I love,” Cathy Brand Beere said.
Three years later, the Wells Street location was destroyed by fire. Her husband and business partner Tim called the fire a “blessing in disguise” because it led the young business to its Coldwater Road location, a heavier traveled corridor on Fort Wayne’s north side, which in turn brought in more customers.
DeBrand now has four retail locations across the Fort Wayne metro area and its even faster-growing mailorder business that sends chocolates to lovers across the nation and even internationally to places such as Ecuador, Bahrain, the Phillipines, Japan and Brazil.
Beere expects the mailorder business eventually will surpass retail sales.
The Fort Wayne chocolatier ships year-round via ground, two-day and next day air services. In the warmest conditions, the chocolates are shipped in reusable, insulated containers with cold bricks.
All DeBrand chocolates are made in one of three kitchens located behind DeBrand’s Auburn Park Drive retail location on Fort Wayne’s north side. Each is homemade and handcrafted.
The fruit-inspired chocolates within the Classic Collection, for example, are made with a natural cream such as the Raspberries N’ Cream pieces that use a tart raspberry juice to the Apricot Cream that has miniature apricot pieces inside.
DeBrand employees even hand paint the leaves on the Brazil chocolate found in the company’s Connoisseur Collection.
“I care personally about every piece,” Beere said. “We’re passionate about every kind. We’re very specific about freshness. We try to make each piece look attractive. People want a nice product and we want to provide that for them.”
In a 15-minute video shown before tour groups every Tuesday morning, Beere calls them “little masterpieces.”
In total, DeBrand offers 100 different varieties from classic American favorites to the more exotic chocolates inspired by Beere’s extensive travels worldwide. The self-proclaimed chocolate lover creates the new sweet treats through simple trial and error that could lead to 20 discarded batches before finding the right combination that makes it to the case.
“If you know the basics, you can always experiment and come up with new kinds,” she said.
There are three main collections at DeBrand – classic, truffles and connoisseur collection that highlights eclectic chocolates from around the world.
The Classic Collection features 14 American favorites shaped into molds that represent the caramel or fruit cream inside. The 12 truffles found in that collection vary from coconut to key lime to white pecan.
The most unique collection at DeBrand was started four years ago for those chocolate lovers that have an appreciation for diverse and exotic flavors, textures and taste combinations.
The Aztec piece, for example, features a delicate pecan brittle layered with pecan gianduja covered in milk chocolate and ancho chili powder while the Boysenberry is made from a white chocolate fresh crème with Madagascar vanilla beans and a splash of boysenberry.
“It’s for customers that have been year in and year out,” Beere said. “It gives them something to come back for.”
A box of the DeBrand chocolate costs more than nationally known Russell Stovers or Whitman’s Candies.
A one-pound box, 28-piece assortment of DeBrand’s Classic Collection is priced at $36. The 12-piece, 15 ounce Truffle Collection is $30. The most expensive Connoisseur Collection starts at $20 for a 9-piece, 3-ounce box.
“We’re not competing in price,” Cathy Brand Beere said. “We’re competing in quality. We know a lot people can make something cheaper.”
Traci Leburg of Fort Wayne, who visited DeBrand for the first time last month, said the DeBrand variety has a much creamier and richer taste than anything she has had.
Bette Nutter of Toledo, Ohio, said the product is not as grainy as mass-produced chocolates. Nutter, who was touring the DeBrand facility with her three sisters and niece, bought four-piece chocolate sets for her daughter and husband afterwards.
“You have to buy two of everything,” she said, “One to eat and the other to look at.”
DeBrand Fine Chocolates
•10105 Auburn Park Drive, Fort Wayne; 260-969-8335
•5608 Coldwater Road, Fort Wayne; 260-482-4373
•Jefferson Pointe Shopping Center, 260-432-5050
•Fort Wayne International Airport; 260-747-5668
This article was published in the December, 2005 issue of MarketPlace.