SNOWMASS VILLAGE - Chocolate. It's the real patron saint of St. Valentine's Day. We eat it when we're happy and celebrating. We eat it when we're not. And often we eat it on vacation when we're walking around and want a little treat, especially if you have a kid or two in tow.
One of the best spots in Snowmass Village to get your sweet treats is the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory on the Snowmass Mall. The company is based in Durango, where owner Frank Crail started the company in 1981 with two partners to make premium chocolate candies and other confectionary products. He had wanted to open a car wash and then a See's Candy franchise, but neither opportunity worked out so he opened his own candy store. Now, they offer more than 300 different candies including clusters, caramels, creams, meltaways, truffles, molded chocolates, and other assorted candies.
In 1982, they opened their first two franchises, and Crail bought out his partners in 1983, taking the company public in 1985. There are now Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory franchises across the United States, and in Canada and the United Arab Emirates.
The Aspen Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory was one of the first franchise stores opening in 1982. The Snowmass store opened in December 1988 at its present location in the Gateway section of the Snowmass Mall.
Lisa Ruggieri is the manager of the Aspen and Snowmass stores. A self-described "rugged individualist," Ruggieri has competed in local mountainboarding and free-ride competitions. She praises the company for letting her run the two stores as if she was the owner, making the key decisions with finances, staff and hours.
Ruggieri moved from Wisconsin to the Roaring Fork Valley in 1985 to ski after being drawn to the area by a skiing magazine. Now she skis and boards.
A 17-year veteran of the volunteer Aspen Fire Department, she loves her work there because she gets to help people.
"It's the best combo of philanthropy and community building," said Ruggieri about her work as a firefighter. She is also certified as a public safety education specialist to teach fire safety, and she goes to many local hotels to speak in Spanish with the service workers about fire extinguishers.
About two-thirds of the candies found in a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory store are made in Durango, including the boxed chocolates and most of the chocolates on the shelves. About one-third of the chocolates are made in each store all day long including the dipped marshmallows, the barks and the candied apple products. Non-chocolate and sugar-free products are also available.
According to the company website, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory offers candies, fudge and other confectionary products in four primary environments: factory outlet malls, tourist areas, regional malls and street fronts because of the high levels of foot traffic.
The stores specialize in creating sweet gifts for birthdays, parties, business gifts, weddings and other special events. You can also shop online or make Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory your fundraising partner by selling its products for your fundraising event.
If you are looking for business opportunity, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory sells franchises and offers "independence, a product people crave, expert training and support - at a price that lets you sleep at night."
For manager Ruggieri, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory has been a job blessing.
"It's hard to find a job where you justify 100 days a year of skiing," she explained. Whether you work for them, want to buy one of the premium chocolate candies or invest in a franchise, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory is indeed a "sweet opportunity."
Steve Alldredge is the former assistant editor/writer for the Snowmass Sun. He now runs a local communications company whose clients include Related Colorado. He can be reached at email@example.com.