“What can you do with chocolate?”
Richard Koenings spent this past February contemplating the answers to this question. Over the last few years, Koenings worked to help bring the chocolate company Buddy Squirrel, LLC out of bankruptcy but was also considering options for his next line of work. A lawyer and businessman by background, Koenings found the chocolate industry frustrating at times but simultaneously quite rewarding. He left Buddy Squirrel on March 1 to work on an idea for his own chocolate company.
Soon after, an elephant was born. Red Elephant Chocolate, that is.
Koenings created Red Elephant Chocolate with the intention of building something more than just another chocolate store. Red Elephant is specifically a chocolate café, one that will sell three types of chocolate products: traditional chocolates; bakery chocolates, which are more unusual treats dipped in chocolate; and chocolate drinks, which include shakes and freshly-ground coffee.
Real chocolate cafés are rare in the United States, but Koenings wanted to take his shop one step further and turn it into a “chocolate experience.” This means paying close attention to the how the products are presented, fostering a good atmosphere and educating customers about what they are eating.
The café’s location on North Broadway Street in the Third Ward helps set the mood for this experience. The space was originally used as a garage that held fruit stands. While there have been a few renovations over the years, most of the elements of the shop have remained the same, such as the original Cream City brick wall that will overlook the candy counter.
“We appreciate that it’s in a historical environment,” Koenings said, adding that he wanted a space with “nostalgia – stories that buildings can tell you.”
Signature artistic touches give the building a more personal feel, like the three-foot elephant sculpture in the front of the store, a projected Red Elephant logo on the sidewalk outside and tasteful “elephant gray” walls. Even the store’s logo was designed to be inviting and friendly: a smiling, red baby elephant with a welcoming stance above light, playful script.
“(The logo) is focused on the personality that I want people to think of when (they’re) involved with Red Elephant,” Koenings said.
He describes the atmosphere as “casual and classic,” combining the upscale, historic location with fun treats and things to do in the café. There will be TV screens displaying information about the chocolate sold in the store and how it is made. Non-food products related to chocolate and elephants will also be on sale.
For even more of a unique visit, customers can read “Cocoaphacts” and “Elephacts” on carry-out containers. These fun facts about cocoa and elephants will add to the “chocolate experience,” giving customers something they can take away from Red Elephant besides delicious desserts.
Chocolate lovers will be thrilled at the selection of treats offered at Red Elephant. From traditional sweets like chocolate chip cookies and red velvet cake to more unique delectables like “chocolate bites” (little cakes on lollipop sticks) and chocolate tea, there is enough diversity to please customers of any age. There will also be a case of special chocolate ice creams as well as a dipping machine, where people can dip fruit or other treats in chocolate.
The chocolate used by the Red Elephant is more expensive than regular chocolate, but Koenings says that is because his chocolate is not processed like mass-produced Hershey bars. His prices will be fair but higher than the norm because customers will be paying for high quality chocolate as well as a “chocolate experience you’ll never forget,” as the café’s slogan states.
It could be thought of as the Starbucks of chocolate. Why do people buy a $4 Starbucks latte when they can get a $1 cup of coffee from McDonalds? It’s because of the quality and “experience.”
Koenings says the café will open sometime in October, though he is not sure of the exact date. However, for those craving to try some of Red Elephant’s delectable goodies, there is a Red Elephant Internet store that sells most of the same products sold in the store, plus a few items unique to the online store. It is set to open at the end of this month.
With its unique concept, friendly atmosphere and vast chocolate selection, Red Elephant may become just as impactful in Milwaukee as its tusked inspiration is in the wild.