Harbor Sweets

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Harbor Sweets Celebrates Over 40 Years of Chocolate Bliss
-Attributes Success to the Christmas Card Mailing List-


Harbor Sweets introductory video

Ben Strohecker with kettle post, 1977
Ben Strohecker with kettle post, 1977
Phyllis LeBlanc making Sweet Sloops
Phyllis LeBlanc making Sweet Sloops

Ben Strohecker with kettle post, 1977. Phyllis LeBlanc making Sweet Sloops.

Harbor Sweets began over 40 years ago in the founder, Ben Strohecker’s, basement. The company grew out of Ben’s hobby to make the best chocolates in the world. He used a recipe out of the Fanny Farmer Cookbook to make almond buttercrunch toffee. One day he ran out of the dark chocolate he was using to coat the toffee and he dipped the triangular pieces half in white chocolate and half in dark chocolate. His son said they looked like sailboats, his wife said “Sweet Sloops” and Harbor Sweets set sail.

Harbor Sweets front door
Harbor Sweets front door
Harbor Sweets front door

Ben began by giving his Sweet Sloops to friends and neighbors as gifts. Next he sent out a mailing to the 75 names on his Christmas card list offering Sweet Sloops for sale. The response was dramatic, and why not, his Christmas card list included his family and friends! But as they gave Harbor Sweets to their family and friends, requests to be added to the mailing list increased.

Harbor Sweets has grown significantly since its humble beginnings back in 1973. Today, the company employs over 100 people, and has several product lines such as its Classics with original nautical designs of Sweet Sloops, Sand Dollars, and Marblehead Mints, its Dark Horse Chocolates, a special equestrian themed line for horse enthusiasts, Salt & Ayre, a line of truffles and salted chocolates. Its newest creation Gather Chocolates, a flight of six chocolates unified by chocolate and local honey which is mission driven with a portion of sales going to help save the honey bee. Each year close to a quarter of a million catalogs are mailed all over the US and to far-flung locations such as Switzerland and Japan.

Early employees
Early employees
Early employees

What is unique to Harbor Sweets is what has not changed in four decades. The company still employs its original chocolate making techniques using copper kettles and wooden paddles, combined with the finest local ingredients of fresh butter, cream and wildflower honey.

It embraces its personal connections with its retail and direct customers. Moreover, it supports the community, rehires seasonal, and part time neighborhood workers, many of whom are 20 year veterans. Extraordinary is that Harbor Sweets does not outsource and continues to work steadily from its only factory, a red brick, non-automated facility where uncompromising hands-on manufacturing is the norm.

Ben at Stove, 1977
Ben at Stove, 1977
Ben at stove, 1977

The company is now owned by one of those veteran employees, Phyllis LeBlanc. Phyllis began her career at Harbor Sweets dipping chocolates while she was a student at Salem State University. She was studying business and was fascinated by this microcosm of the business world she was studying in college.

When Phyllis graduated she continued to work her way up in the company as it grew, going back to business school nights at Boston University for her MBA. In a class in Entrepreneurship she wrote a business plan creating a line of chocolates with equestrian themes, combining her passion for riding horses with her love of chocolate. The Dark Horse Chocolates line was an immediate success when it was introduced shortly after Phyllis purchased Harbor Sweets from the founder who was ready to retire.

Ben pouring Buttercrunch, 1977
Ben pouring Buttercrunch, 1977
Ben scoring Buttercrunch, 1977
Ben scoring Buttercrunch, 1977

Ben pouring Buttercrunch, 1977. Ben scoring Buttercrunch, 1977

The American dream of owning your own business has been realized by both the founder, Ben Strohecker, and his protégé, Phyllis LeBlanc. It all began with a roll of stamps and a Christmas card mailing list of 75 names. While the company now sells through gift and gourmet stores and has its own website, it still realizes the bulk of its business through the mail order catalog.

Harbor Sweets longevity is attributed to its ability to apply the simple age-old concept of the Golden Rule, “treat others with honor and respect as you yourself would want to be treated”.

The chocolatier’s stellar reputation can be seen in the custom orders for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Massachusetts Financial Services, Metropolitan Opera, The Guggenheim Museum and the Smithsonian Institution.

Harbor Sweets was recognized in 2011 and 2012 as one of the top 100 Women Led Businesses in Massachusetts.