Holl’s Chocolates makes a classic even better.
The story behind Holl’s Chocolates almost sounds too perfect—too adorably quaint—to be true. It’s like what a team of professional marketers would come up with if they sat down to brainstorm the ideal background of a box of chocolates: Swiss boy in the 1940s with the perfect name of “Fritz.” An apprenticeship in his uncle’s chocolate shop. A small business born years later in America, and then passed down from father to son. If you read that story in a pamphlet, you might roll your eyes and dismiss it as myth or hyperbole. But here’s the thing about the story of Holl’s Chocolates: It’s all true.
The company was started by Fritz Holl in 1986, but its creation story begins long before that, in Switzerland in the 1940s. That’s where Fritz learned to make Swiss chocolate as an apprentice in his uncle’s chocolate shop, a skill he brought with him to the United States when he immigrated to Marietta, Ohio, in 1958. For years, though, he made chocolate only at home and spent his days working for a dairy. “When we were little, my dad would pretty much only make chocolates at Christmas and Easter,” says Dominique Fritz, the president of Holl’s Chocolates today. “I remember those holidays really well. There was always chocolate around. And that’s how he stayed in touch with what he really loved to do.”
When Fritz retired from the dairy business in 1986, he started making chocolates in his kitchen at home and selling them around town. They were so delicious that the business took off immediately: A local wine shop sold 400 pounds of Holl’s chocolates in the first eight months, and Fritz soon opened a storefront in Parkersburg. A few years later Holl’s moved to a larger location in Vienna, where the headquarters are today. There’s also a second, smaller shop in Charleston.
“My dad had done his apprenticeship in the 1940s and then had not worked in the chocolate business for 40 years so there was a connection to that time,” Dominique says. “He wasn’t doing things like a modern Swiss chocolate maker would. He was doing it the old-fashioned way.” Since Dominique took over the business, Holl’s has modernized a bit; but he’s taken care to do it deliberately without sacrificing the quality his dad worked so hard to achieve. “The changes we have made are all ones that, in addition to improving efficiency, also improve quality,” he says. For quality control, Dominique always looked to his dad. Fritz passed away in 2010, but Dominique says he was happy with the direction Holl’s was going. “He would always say that the quality of the chocolates we’re making today is better than what he was making back in 1940,” Dominique says. “I believe him.”
The other thing that makes Holl’s special is its incredible customer service, which has been a big part of the business since the beginning. Dominique’s mom, Elisabeth, had her own apprenticeship back in Switzerland at an upscale flower shop. “So she was used to providing very good customer service, a kind that’s uncommon anymore,” Dominique says. As each and every customer walked in the door, she greeted them with a smile and a sample of chocolate—she knew, from memory, which was their favorite. “She was the more gregarious of my parents,” Dominique says. “And people loved shopping with her.” Elisabeth doesn’t work in the Holl’s stores anymore, but she’s managed to instill her regard for customer service in each and every Holl’s employee—although these days they use computerized lists to help them remember each customer’s favorite.
Holl’s makes all the standard confections—their main product is a traditional box of mixed chocolates—but they somehow make them better. The chocolate itself is rich and ridiculously smooth, and the various nut and fruit combinations they’ve put together are elegant and delicious. Everything that comes out of Holl’s is beautiful: The chocolates themselves are these lovely little morsels finished with a drizzle of dark chocolate or a simple dot of white; and the packaging is refined and tasteful. For the holidays Holl’s offers a handful of specialty items: chocolate-covered gingerbread cookies, Christmas stollen, chocolate lollipops in holiday shapes. “But, really, at Christmas time we sell a ton of boxed chocolates,” Dominique says. “They’re perfect for Christmas, when people are frequently buying for friends or acquaintances—it’s not like Valentine’s Day when you’re buying for someone you know very, very well. At Christmas you’re buying for a lot of people that you know kind of well.” Chocolate is perfect for that because everyone loves chocolate.
2001 Grand Central Avenue, Vienna, holls.com
written by Shay Maunz | photographed by Carla Witt Ford