Port Washington’s South Gate could get new life – and a touch of the Netherlands – with news that Hollander Chocolate Co. plans to buy the long-vacant Ernie von Schledorn car dealership on South Spring Street and move there its head office.
A concept plan for the building was presented to the city’s Design Review Board on Tuesday, and members received it enthusiastically.
“We always imagined something like that on this site,” said board member Marc Eernisse. “That’s what we want. This is our entrance to the city.
“It will be worth the wait to have a successful and growing business there,” said board chairman Rob Vanden Noven, noting that the former dealership sat vacant for more than a year. decade.
Hollander Chocolate owner Doug Podzilni said he plans to consolidate many of the company’s operations in Port, including its offices, innovation lab and distribution center.
But, he said, he does not plan to move the company’s production facilities to Port.
“We don’t think it would be a good fit. We want it to be the public face of our business,” Podzilni said. “It’s our chance to show off to the wider community. We want it to be a fun place for people.
“That’s what we want them to think of when they think of Hollander Chocolate.”
Podzilni said the company has a three-phase plan for the building that it would like to implement over the next two years.
The first phase involves removing the remnants of the car dealership and bringing the building up to food grade standards so that the business can receive the necessary state and federal certifications, then moving its inventory into the building and moving its operations staff to the port.
The second phase involves remodeling office space and relocating office staff, as well as creating an interactive product innovation lab.
The final phase includes the construction of public spaces, such as a café, a gift shop, a chocolate museum and an interactive innovation lab.
Board members provided suggestions for planned improvements, such as the use of architectural features to define the entrance to public areas.
The proposal will be considered by the city plan commission when it meets at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 19.
The former car showroom will be used for public spaces, he told the Design Review Board, while the dealership’s offices will be used for Hollander’s offices. The rest of the building will then be used for a distribution center that will house both raw materials and finished products.
Both the interior and exterior of the building will be renovated, he said, and green spaces will be added. A berm and trees will help mask the loading docks at the south end of the building, and landscaping including lots of tulips will be added.
The 5.25-acre site has plenty of room for future expansion, Podzilni said, noting the business is growing by leaps and bounds.
Podzilni said he had been involved in the cocoa business earlier in his career, adding that he had “always loved, loved, loved the world of chocolate”.
He worked in other fields, but about seven years ago he decided to turn his passion into a business, creating Hollander.
The company sources its cocoa from Holland, he said, where the best cocoa is processed.
Hollander Chocolate Co. produces high quality chocolate syrups and powders primarily for the cafe and restaurant industry.
“We are sold in thousands of cafes across the country and the world,” Podzilni said, including in the Middle East, Korea and Guatemala. “You go to the Java Dock (in Port Washington) and you’ll see our product there.”
“We are kind of considered the cool kids of the coffee industry.”
With the planned gift shop, Podzilni said, the company could produce some retail products, such as hot chocolate mixes and confectionery, to be offered there.
Hollander specializes in high-quality chocolate, he said, and takes pride in the fact that its chocolate is Rainforest Alliance certified, which means the farmers who grew the cocoa receive a living wage.
“We’re never going to replace Hershey syrup in the grocery store,” Podzilni said. “We can’t compete with Hershey because all of our products are of such high quality.”
The business has grown by leaps and bounds, Podzilni said, and he hopes to attract workers to Ozaukee County.
“We feel there is a talent pool in Port. We think we could attract smart people to Port,” he said.
The company currently has offices in Germantown, Fox Point and Port, all of which will be consolidated in Port.
He turned to Port for the new facility because he and his wife value the city and its employees here as the community, Podzilni said.
“We think this place is the perfect place,” he said. “It doesn’t really add excitement to the city now, but we hope it does.” And we think Port’s interests and Hollander’s interests align – there’s no daylight between them.
And, he said, the company wants to spark the region’s interest in chocolate with the museum, educational programs, school tours and other events.
“I want people to have fun with chocolate,” Podzilni said, adding that he could foresee a time when the company would hold regular blind taste tests that people could take part in.
Podzilni said he hoped to buy the property from the concessionaire as soon as possible and start work, with part of the business moving out this fall.