I love this story.
Last May, Craig Leva, president and ceo of Chicago-based Arway Confections, got an out-of-the-blue e-mail asking if he would be interested in buying Long Grove Confectionery. He thought about it briefly, responded that he’d like to learn more, and left on a short family vacay.
What Craig didn’t know is that the owner of Long Grove Confectionery was literally days away from closing the doors on his candy manufacturing and retail operation, and laying off all employees.
One day after returning from vacation, Craig met the owner, and learned he had less than a week to make a purchase decision to avoid the massive layoff and manufacturing downtime. The purchase included an 85,000-square-foot candy manufacturing facility and outlet store in Buffalo Grove, Ill., a flagship retail store in Long Grove, Ill., and hiring back the nearly 100 existing employees without ever meeting them. Yikes!
Craig knew he needed the experienced talent pool to keep the plant and retail stores running, but wouldn’t have time to meet employees or perform any real due diligence until after ownership papers were signed. He also knew that his profitable bulk wholesale company, Arway Confections, was maxing out on capacity and that he needed more production space.
Long story short, Craig rolled the dice, and bought Long Grove Confectionery.
“A year later, we’re in the black, and retained most all employees,” says Craig, who credits his employees’ can-do attitude for the successful turnaround.
Craig also credits his mom for saving the flagship Long Grove Confectionery shop located in downtown Long Grove, Ill.
“When I told my mom about buying Long Grove Confectionery, she told me I had to keep the retail shop open,” he says with a big smile. “She was right. It is an important and historic part of the community.”
Long Grove Confectionery also plays an important role in the town’s annual Strawberry, Apple, and Chocolate Festivals. My husband, kids, and I got to see Craig and his team in action at Long Grove’s Strawberry Festival in June.
The quaint town was packed with 20,000 pedestrians eager to get a first taste of summer, including Long Grove Confectionery’s chocolate-covered strawberries and homemade strawberry doughnuts. That’s Craig in the red T-shirt below. He’s offering up strawberry doughnuts to my kids, which disappeared in 45 seconds.
This year’s Strawberry Festival caught the attention of the Food Network. A film crew came out for Food Network’s new series, Food Fest Nation, which premiers Monday, July 21. I hope I wasn’t caught on camera eating a chocolate-covered strawberry. I’m not a graceful eater.
What a spectacular summer day! A big thank you to Craig’s mom for wisely advising her son to keep Long Grove’s beloved sweet shop alive and kicking.
Sweet Idea: Make a reservation to tour Long Grove Confectionery’s manufacturing facility in Buffalo Grove, Ill. You’ll get a firsthand look at how chocolates are made.
I took the tour a few weeks ago and snapped this shot of the production room.
During the tour, you’ll also get to sample chocolate, shop the Factory Outlet store, and see enormous chocolate sculptures by Jan Wakulinski. Jan is a talented sculptor who studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdansk, Poland.
I met Jan at the 2014 Sweets and Snacks Expo in Chicago while he was carving Long Grove Confectionery’s logo into a block of chocolate. He’s the mastermind behind Long Grove Confectionery’s highly detailed custom chocolate molds.
Sweet Idea #2: Visit Long Grove Confectionery’s flagship store at 220 Robert Parker Coffin Rd., Long Grove, Ill., Mon. – Sun., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. In the back of the shop, you can peer through a window and watch small batches of chocolates being made. My kids and I saw fresh strawberries take a dip in milk chocolate.