Thompson Chocolate, Meriden
I had an absolutely full old school CTMQ day of “stuff” to do. I had taken off Fridays in December, so after I dropped my son off at his school in Windsor, I sped towards Meriden. I time out my days like this to the minute, so the plan was to arrive at Thompson Chocolate right when the opened at nine o’clock.
I arrived at 8:55, so you can imagine my joy at seeing a hairnetted employee opening the front door at 8:57. I had gained 3 minutes on my day! These things matter. Score one for Thompson Chocolate.
I mention this because it’s pretty typical for small artisanal businesses like those on the Connecticut Chocolate Trail to not be so punctual. Let alone three minutes early.
Thompson Chocolate is not a small business. It is a relatively large and very old business. Although located in a factory building, it’s in a more residential area than I expected. In fact, there are not only residences next door, there’s also an elementary school… which shares a driveway with the Moses Andrews Homestead Museum.
Meriden seems to just site buildings… wherever. It really is an oddly eclectic and hodgepodge small city.
I mean, is it widely known that it’s home to one of America’s first chocolate companies? Founded in 1879? Well, it is. And here we are. And it smells great. Those kids at that school… they smell chocolate all day every day? That’s amazing.
William H. Thompson always wanted to create and own his own chocolate company. So in 1871, he traveled from Connecticut to Philadelphia to learn the trade from Stephan Whitman, of Whitman Candies. During his time in Philadelphia, he became an acquaintance of Milton Hershey.
Hold up. This dude wanted to learn the trade and he hung out with Whitman and Hershey? That’s pretty amazing. I don’t know anything about the history of chocolate companies in America, but I’m going to guess that you couldn’t do much better than Whitman and Hershey in the 19th century.
Not long after gaining insight from those two titans, Thompson opened his first store in Meriden, the W.H. Thompson Company, in 1879. He sold ice cream and candies and chocolates – chocolates which he was determined to produce without “artificial ingredients.” Was that really a thing in 1879? Or is that apocryphal revisionism of the company today?
Who knows, but whatever he was doing, he was doing it well. A few decades into his run, during World War I, Schrafft’s Candy of Boston ordered a large run of chocolate soldiers. Soon, Thompson had accounts from Maine to Washington D.C. and he closed the ice cream business, incorporated as W.H. Thompson Co. and concentrated on candy.
Another decade passed and his son Charles took over, founding Thompson Candy Company in 1934. Decades passed and the demand for molded chocolate grew. Thompson had always been at the forefront of this style of candies, and they finally bought automated molding machines in 1960. Various Thompsons passed away and the ownership moved to a non-Thompson in 1967. They moved into their current home in 1973 and began producing chocolates year round, and… let’s skip to late 2022 when I visited the 114,000 square foot facility. You’d expect chocolate shops to all smell good, but this one smells great. I’d guess it’s because it’s a very large chocolate factory – certainly the largest in Connecticut – and the sheer volume of it just permeates the air here more than at other places.
The public store area is large and displays several historic items and exhibits amongst the treats. I certainly appreciated that touch. What I didn’t immediately appreciate is what Thompson Chocolate specializes in. (I had no foreknowledge of the company or its products.)
There are no truffles or bonbons or cabinets full of single items. That’s what I’m used to seeing at all the Chocolate Trail stops. Here, everything is pre-packaged and almost all of it is wrapped in foil. Not just wrapped in foil, but that kind of thin foil that’s a royal pain in the butt to remove from smooth milk chocolate balls or Santa Clauses.
I’ll admit, I was initially a bit turned off by that. Again, I didn’t appreciate the history or the quality here at first blush. I was tasked to pick up small gifts for the nieces and nephews for Christmas. And treats for my own kids. And my wife.
So I did exactly that.
And you know what? It was all good. This isn’t like those stupidly expensive (yet super delicious) fancy schmance chocolate places that you’ll find in Goshen or Fairfield. This is straight up, good quality, working-man downtown Meriden chocolate. The ultimate test for me was the bag of foil wrapped milk chocolate soccer balls that I gave my son Calvin.
I prefer dark over milk. I hate when cheap foil wrapping doesn’t come off in one simple try. These were “mass-produced.” I was skeptical…
“These are good!” said my 11-year-old, a kid who prefers fish sticks over Dover sole and butter poached black cod. Then I had one. Then two. And… they were good! Way better than, say, Hershey’s kisses or even Hershey Bars. Rich, creamy, and fully of flavor. Real chocolate. I was impressed.
Thompson Chocolate sells holiday themed shapes throughout the year, and their store is open pretty much every day. There are novelty items like chocolate cigars and things like that and they’ll even handle custom orders and shapes. The employee there was happy to help me and it was nice to be able to buy a bunch of gifts and treats and not go broke doing so.
Meriden continues to surprise me with its eclectic places and things… and if a chocolate maker that specializes in (let’s be honest) somewhat cheap looking chocolate that is actually pretty darn good? I’ll keep poking around the city for more.