Anyone who has ever stepped into the longtime Coleman Co. space at the southwest corner of Second and St. Francis likely would be stunned to see it now.
The once-industrial space has become a gleaming, modern headquarters for Cocoa Dolce, and the transformation of the 21,000-square-foot building is proving transformational for the 60-person company, too.
“Just moving into this facility it’s sparking creativity,” says Birds Eye Holdings partner Casey Voegeli. “There’s an energy that we’ve never seen before.”
Birds Eye purchased the chocolate business in 2015 and always had plans to grow outside of the market.
“Now everybody is starting to see a different vision than what they’ve seen before,” says Ben Voegeli, Casey Voegeli’s brother and business partner.
“They’re starting to see what our vision of Cocoa Dolce really is, and it’s so much grander than what we’ve had in the past.”
Casey Voegeli says the new headquarters — including a production facility, warehouse, office and retail area — has “already proven itself.”
There are new chocolates (Bananas Foster is the Voegelis’ favorite), new packaging, new equipment, an actual office instead of a cramped space just off of a relatively small production area.
“It’s a little bit of everything that takes us to a different level,” Ben Voegeli says.
The store, which makes the third Cocoa Dolce for Wichita, will open for First Friday this week.
As customers step into the retail area through the same door that Coleman used to use for its outlet store, the first thing they’ll likely notice is not the cases of chocolates to one side or a seating area to the other.
Instead, their view will be of the cavernous production area thanks to floor-to-ceiling glass that allows a view of chocolate being made.
“We want people to walk in and see there’s a lot more going on here,” Casey Voegeli says. “There’s a lot that goes into this.”
The Voegelis have been refining a lot of processes with the move from Comotara and still have more to go.
“We want to implement an ERP system so it’s actually more like an aerospace company where jobs run through, and they’re clocked and keeping track of time and all your materials, and it pushes when you’re going to order ingredients and things like that,” Casey Voegeli says. “Right now it’s all done by hand in spreadsheets.”
Aerospace is a big focus for Birds Eye, a private equity firm the Voegeli family formed in 2013 after selling Exacta Aerospace.
Birds Eye became a majority owner of Max Aerostructures when the company started in 2016. Even though that business is much larger than Cocoa Dolce, Ben Voegeli says it has a strong management team that doesn’t require his brother and him to be “living in the middle of it.”
Since Cocoa Dolce is smaller, the Voegelis need to invest more of their own time there right now.
“It’s become the project,” Casey Voegeli says.
Previously, they had a couple of potential Cocoa Dolce storefronts under contract out of state, but they took a step back and reevaluated the entire company with the move.
They’re still considering opening in other markets, particularly big ones like Chicago where they can have more stores for more efficiency.
First, though, they have to finish the headquarters.
Currently, the production facility looks overly big, but that’s because there’s more equipment yet to come and, one day, more employees, too.
“We designed for that,” Ben Voegeli says.
The actual construction of the space went fairly smoothly considering it’s a 1920s building, but the windows — including clerestory ones on the ceiling that allow natural light to stream into the production area — were thin, broken and had rotting infrastructure. They became something of a holdup. The project, which started in February, stayed mostly on track, though.
There will be a grand opening later when art installation is finished and a massive sign is complete.
Part of the marquee sign is coming this week, but the rest of it has to wait on a variance from the city before it can go on top of the building.
Ben Voegeli says it’s part of an overall vintage look he and his brother have tried to keep at the site.
“The vibe feels good,” he says.
Casey Voegeli says the store is “something special” and, like the other two Cocoa Dolces in town, will be great for date nights.
Along with chocolate, there will be wine, chocolate martinis, wine slushies, local beers, spirits and gelato.
Although the space looks new, there are still some older industrial touches, such as the building’s original fire suppression system that is now part of a conference room. There was talk of covering it up, but Casey Voegeli wanted to show it.
Just as the new space is livelier than the brothers anticipated, Casey Voegeli says the neighborhood has “more energy than we expected” with the nearby Wave and Intrust Bank Arena just down the street.
“We’re seeing some good foot traffic,” Ben Voegeli says.
A lot of people stop and peer in the windows to see what’s going on.
“We’re getting tired of having to clean off the marks on the glass,” Casey Voegeli jokes.
“We’re just ready to open the doors so they can just come on in.”