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Peterbrooke Chief Operating Officer Jeffery Smith, Hickory Foods Inc. Marketing Manager Elizabeth Cordell and Andy Stenson, vice president of marketing and business development for Hickory Foods, in the space that will become the main production room ...
Jax Daily Record Saturday, Jan. 10, 201512:00 PM EST

Peterbrooke to open Downtown store and Brooklyn factory/tourism center

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Peterbrooke Chocolatier has some sweet plans for the Brooklyn neighborhood and Downtown.

Imagine a factory split into spacious rooms just for making chocolate-covered popcorn, chocolate candies, cakes, cookies and maybe more.

Windows onto each gallery will allow visitors to view the process. There likely will be samples, too.

The Jacksonville-based chocolatier is renovating a former food-processing plant at Copeland and Forest streets, on the western edge of Brooklyn, into its corporate base, production plant and tourism center.

Production should start in February as the exterior work is completed. The public can expect a grand opening about June.

“It will become the Peterbrooke headquarters, the global powerhouse of chocolate,” said Andy Stenson, vice president of marketing and business development for Hickory Foods Inc., the management company for Peterbrooke.

Peterbrooke also is venturing into the core of Downtown. It intends to open a 1,488-square-foot store at 100 W. Bay St., at Bay and Laura streets, by Easter.

Peterbrooke Chocolatier has been making chocolates since its founding by businesswoman Phyllis Lockwood Geiger in 1983 in San Marco with the mission of bringing back the art of European chocolate making.

Jacksonville investor Billy Morris, founder and president of Jacksonville-based Hickory Foods, bought Peterbrooke three years ago. Hickory Foods is the management company for a number of businesses owned by Morris.

Stenson said 20 Peterbrooke stores operate in Florida, as well as one in Georgia and one in Alabama. Of those, 14 are franchised.

The production center now occupies about 6,000 square feet of space in a leased building at 1470 San Marco Blvd. Owners want to sell the structure and Peterbrooke is on a month-to-month lease.

Morris owns the plant at 249 Copeland St., once a USDA food production facility, which led to the decision to move there.

It will be a major expansion into warehouse, production and touring space. The building is almost 28,000 square feet.

The location is less than a mile from 220 Riverside, a major Brooklyn redevelopment, and on the other side of the interstate overpass along Forest Street.

There’s also a 2,124-square-foot building on-site that Stenson said will become a retail store and community meeting space.

Converting the plant into a Peterbrooke factory isn’t evident from the outside. The exterior work will start after the inside is completed.

That interior work is underway with some projects already permitted.

Rooms are being painted, including with accents of the signature Peterbrooke pink and blue. LED lighting brightens the rooms and new flooring has been installed.

Stenson and Peterbrooke COO Jeffery Smith walked through the building Wednesday, indicating what will happen where, and what tourists and school groups on field trips will see.

There’s the multipurpose room that will feature the history of the company and educate visitors about how chocolate is produced.

An atrium garden will feature tropical cocoa plants.

Then there’s the Peterbrooke Bake Studio, where cakes, cookies and other baked goods will be created.

The studio will fill wholesale orders and create custom-ordered products for the stores and private events, including weddings and parties.

There’s a candy kitchen for making the caramels, toffee, peanut butter, hard candy and other Peterbrooke treats.

The molding room is the area where custom chocolate molds are made for clients, companies and holiday designs.

And the large main production room will start with two lines — one for milk chocolate and one for dark chocolate — with space for up to six lines.

Viewing windows into each gallery will allow visitors to watch the production as they tour the factory.

The building also will contain the Peterbrooke corporate offices, storage space and other functions. It also has dock-high doors, easing truck loading and unloading.

And there’s a central room for managers, allowing them to circulate throughout the factory more efficiently.

Stenson said the manufacturing renovations will be completed in the first phase, the office in the second and exterior will be completed in the third phase.

Peterbrooke has not disclosed the investment and can’t say yet whether more employees will be added.

However, building permits show Peterbrooke already has invested almost $170,000 in roofing and equipment.

Stenson said Morris has had a long association with the new Peterbrooke Factory property for years and it was his strong desire to make an investment in the neighborhood to assist in the area’s revitalization.

Morris bought the 1.5-acre property in 1988.

The dock will help with another Peterbrooke venture. It is launching a new website at Peterbrooke.com at the beginning of February to boost e-commerce.

The chocolate is certified kosher and certification will be sought on other products.

Stenson said Peterbrooke also is committed to sustainable sourcing and is UTZ certified.

All of its raw materials and cocoa will be sustainably sourced through UTZ, whose mission is to create a world where sustainable farming is the norm, helping farmers, workers and their families make a living and creating a framework for better farming methods.

Stenson said Peterbrooke has signed a contract with Visit Florida to become a partner, which provides it a listing in the official Florida vacation guide, a web listing on visitflorida.com, social media with Visit Florida, ads in transportation maps and lobby booth displays in Florida Welcome Centers.

Peterbrooke expects that to help direct traffic to the new factory.

Stenson said he intends to meet with Visit Jacksonville next week.

“It’ll really turn into a sweet destination,” said Hickory Foods Marketing Manager Elizabeth Cordell.

[email protected]

@MathisKb

(904) 356-2466

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