Carrie Rengers

Sweet deal will put Cocoa Dolce headquarters in former Coleman space downtown

UPDATED — There’s a sweet new deal at the longtime Coleman Co. facility at the southwest corner of Second and St. Francis.

Cocoa Dolce is moving its headquarters and production warehouse to the 21,000-square-foot property at 235 N. St. Francis this summer.

“It’s a great story bringing production back to a production facility that . . . once was,” says Casey Voegeli, principal at Birds Eye Holdings.

The private equity firm owns Cocoa Dolce and another subsidiary that purchased the former Coleman building.

There will be a retail shop and lounge, but the real star of the space will be the production area, which will be visible through a floor-to-ceiling glass wall that will invite customers to see how Cocoa Dolce sweets are made.

“We’re excited for little kids and people to come in . . . put their nose against the glass and watch what’s happening,” Voegeli says. “That’s the whole goal for this space.”

It’s a huge jump from Cocoa Dolce’s more nondescript current 7,000 square feet of production space in the Comotara business park in northeast Wichita. However, Voegeli says the move is about more than extra square footage.

Downtown is “a different vibe than east or west,” he says.

The late 1920s building also is a historic space — the last visible sign of Coleman’s long presence in downtown Wichita.

It had been Coleman’s tool and die shop before eventually becoming the Coleman Factory Outlet and Museum.

The site also is where customers could drop off Coleman products to be fixed. It was the last Coleman service center until its closing in late 2016. The museum closed late last year, and the outlet store is now at the former OfficeMax building at 2414 N. Maize Road.

The building’s sale was finalized Jan. 31. Whitney Vliet Ward, Krista Racine and Bradley Tidemann of J.P. Weigand & Sons handled the deal.

Voegeli says the move downtown will help Cocoa Dolce’s brand, customers and employees, who are “our biggest advocates.”

“These are some creative people, right? And we want to keep them and keep them happy and attract more, so we have to do more to do that.”

There are all kinds of fun and tasty options within feet of the corner — the Wave concert, event and food venue, Nortons Brewing Co. and Bite Me BBQ — and then there’s the building itself.

There are two cavernous spaces that Alloy Architecture and Hutton Construction are redesigning with a clean, industrial lab feel to go with Cocoa Dolce’s test kitchen.

“It’s going to look completely different,” Voegeli says.

Thanks to vintage clerestory windows, natural light streams into the side of the building where the production facility will be.

Voegeli says although that’s a bonus, it’s something that will have to be tempered a bit.

“Everything has to be super temperature controlled for the chocolates.”

In the front of that side of the building will be a retail space — a similar version of the Cocoa Dolce stores in Bradley Fair and NewMarket Square — and a lounge that Voegeli hopes will become a Final Friday stop along with a destination for parties and other events.

“We want to be that spot.”

While chocolate is still the main focus of the business, Voegeli says, “We’re actually going to start branding more towards the sweet lounge because we want people to come in and know it’s not just chocolates.”

There are pastries along with drinks, such as coffee, bourbon and wine.

After Birds Eye purchased the then 10-year-old Cocoa Dolce Artisan Chocolates in 2015, it eventually dropped the “Artisan Chocolates.”

“It seems like all of a sudden everything became artisan,” Voegeli says. “So it’s like, if everything’s special, nothing’s special.”

Everything is still handmade, though, and he says he wants the business to be innovative with its new test kitchen.

The second side of the new building, which will be connected to the production space through a couple of new openings in the wall between them, will have corporate offices, conference and break rooms and walk-in refrigeration.

“And then we’ve got room to grow as this expands,” Voegeli says.

He expects to share more expansion news this year with announcements of at least a couple of new national markets for the brand.

“We’re excited about Wichita, but we’re excited about growing the company and growing the brand, and that’s what this is all about.”

That’s also where the new downtown headquarters likely will make a difference, Voegeli says.

He says he wants people in other markets to see that space when they search for Cocoa Dolce online.

“It helps tell a story. . . . That helps build the brand.”

Voegeli says that’s not unlike Coleman, another company that started small before venturing beyond the Midwest to become a household name everywhere.

“It’s got a great story. . . . Hopefully we can just continue that same story in this same building.”

Carrie Rengers has been a reporter for almost three decades, including 16 years at The Wichita Eagle. Her Have You Heard? column of business scoops runs five days a week in The Eagle. If you have a tip, please e-mail or tweet her or call 316-268-6340.