A Florida investment firm has purchased a sweet piece of Southern California history in Helen Grace Chocolates, a Lynwood candy maker whose truffles and chocolate confections became a fundraising engine for legions of children and their schools.
The operation, owned by North Carolina's Shamrock Corp. since 2001, sells its products nationwide and has a few local shops, a number that has dwindled over the years. The company was founded by Bill and Helen Grace, who opened their first chocolate shop in 1944.
The deal, announced Monday, follows other acquisitions by BBX Capital Corp. In December, the Fort Lauderdale investment firm entered the candy business with its purchase of family-owned Hoffman's Chocolates, founded in 1975 as a small shop in Lake Worth, Fla. A month later, BBX scooped up Williams & Bennett, a premium chocolate manufacturer in Boynton Beach, Fla.
And early this month, BBX came to the West Coast with its purchase of Jer's Chocolates of Solana Beach.
BBX's latest acquisition — Helen Grace Chocolates — was founded on Helen's 30th birthday in 1944, according to the company's website. Her husband presented her with a surprising gift: a small San Pedro chocolate shop, instead of the more typical box of chocolates.
Bill, a shipyard worker who worked in the candy business before World War II, would make the chocolate treats at night. Helen worked the counter during the day.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Helen Grace had around 20 stores across Southern California, but the number declined as the company shifted heavily into fundraising, said the couple's son, Jim Grace, who ran the business from the 1970s until its sale in 2001.
Over the years, the candy maker has helped schools and organizations across the country raise more than $500 million, an online company biography said.
The three remaining stores — in Lynwood, Long Beach and Huntington Beach — will continue to sell chocolate delicacies under the Helen Grace name, BBX said.
After the Grace family sold the business to Shamrock, Helen Grace became the exclusive chocolate provider for the North Carolina firm's Innisbrook Wraps division, which also is big in fundraising circles.
Bill and Helen Grace divorced in the mid-1980s. Bill Grace died in 1989. Helen Grace died in 2002.
But the chocolate business they founded decades ago continues.
BBX said it is keeping the Helen Grace brand and fundraising operations; there are no plans for layoffs. Greg Power, the general manager for Helen Grace, said the company has about 40 employees. A sales price was not disclosed.
Helen retired from day-to-day work at her company in 1963. But she didn't walk away from the chocolate business that carried her name.
Her 2002 obituary in the Los Angeles Times said that until a few years before her death, Helen would occasionally drop by a store, wanting wanted to see how it was run.