Bidding a Fond Farewell to a Sweet Cleveland Heights Tradition

Coming up on 80 years ago, Bill Mitchell’s father, Chris, became the lucky 13th occupant of a building on Coventry Road next to the Heights Arts Theatre and began making what would become some of the most beloved confections in Cleveland’s history.

Mitchell’s Fine Chocolates, which moved to its current Lee Road location in 1991, has been lovingly handcrafting candy for loyal Clevelanders for every holiday and occasion for so long that its 3rd and 4th-generation customers can’t remember a time without them.

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“One of my favorite things about being in this business is hearing the memories of our customers,” says Bill. “One man that comes in remembers his father giving him 25 cents which would buy him a nice selection of candy from my father and an afternoon at the movies next door.”

Chris, the chocolate maker, and his wife, Penelope, the face of the store, began with a wider variety of candies, including peanut brittle, cinnamon apples, and caramel corn, but packaging laws eventually came into play and the focus was narrowed to chocolates. Though dark chocolate is very much on trend at the moment and we think of it as a more current preference, Mitchell’s actually started with only dark chocolate. It was with requests from customers that they added the milk chocolate line.

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An immigrant and refugee, Chris came to the United States at age 19 on a British destroyer, after fleeing his homeland of Asia Minor. He jumped ship in Baltimore and eventually, after such interesting jobs as valet for John Philip Sousa, landed in Cleveland. Perhaps attending the Robert School as a youngster in Constantinople, which was founded by a sugar refiner, led him to his ultimate career in candy making. Whether or not dark chocolate is healthy is debatable, but we’ll just put it out there that Chris lived to be 102 years old.

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So many changes have transpired through the windows of both of the store locations. The Mitchell family and the Coventry neighborhood watched as the area transitioned from an ethnic Jewish neighborhood to one of beatniks, Hell’s Angels, hippies, and whoever was in style in the 1970s and 80s. No matter what sort of hats or shoes they preferred, they all wanted chocolate though, and the Happy Days-like atmosphere of the store was welcoming to all.

With the move to Lee Road, there was more space for mechanization and the operation became more efficient in some ways, while still allowing for their careful process that would never sacrifice quality. Dark chocolate covered apricots and candied orange peels, caramels, salted chocolates, pecan turtles, almond butter crunch, and truffles have been some of the most popular items throughout the years.

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A suggestion from Bill for those of you now craving a taste of chocolate: a special occasion might warrant a pint of ripe beautiful strawberries with a high quality dark chocolate. He enjoys the synergy between the two. In fact when asked what he’ll miss most, Bill pats his stomach and says, “Well, I’m a chocoholic, so …”

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Requests for his chocolates come from all over the world. Often it’s a person who has moved away, such as a guest conductor for the Cleveland Orchestra for whom he ships to Switzerland. Another customer had a gift sent to Antarctica where his daughter was stationed with her Naval research team. “Sometimes our customers pay more for shipping than for the chocolate!” he laughs. But this taste of home is obviously a love worth maintaining.

Bill hopes that he can connect with someone who has it in them to continue the labor of love that he’s known for his whole life, but is not certain that person exists. “It will really take a special person to step in and take over,” he says. Many generations of customers hope that happens before he closes the store in May to enjoy a well-deserved retirement. No matter what the result of that search, we will all be left with the sweetest taste in our mouths from Mitchell’s Fine Chocolates. Thank you, Bill and all of the many people who have contributed to Mitchell’s Fine Chocolates over the years.

—Photos and story by Karin McKenna