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Long-time chocolate, ice cream business survives as others melt away
By Sharon Porta – 2006
Since Gayety’s Chocolates and Ice Cream Co. opened its doors 86 years ago, there have been many changes in both industries. From frozen yogurt to mix-ins, there is more competition than ever in the ice cream business and many candy factories have closed their doors.
But Gayety’s posted a 22 percent increase in sales last year, not bad for one of the oldest companies in the area.
“It’s personalized service, I like to treat every customer that walks into my store as if they were a guest in my house,” says president Jim Flessor. “It has nothing to do with technology, it’s all about taking a personal approach.”
Gayety’s was founded in South Chicago by Flessor’s uncle, James Papageorge, in 1920. Flessor’s father, Lee, has worked for more than 70 years at the store, which doubled sales after moving three years ago from its 16-year location in a Lansing strip mall off Torrence Avenue to a new, more visible sit at 3306 Ridge Road.
“Both my dad and I started working here when we were 12 years old,” Flessor says. “My dad always told me that no one cares about this business like family. But we have been blessed with wonderful people; some have worked here for over 40 years.”
In a way, technology has been a blessing to the business. Gayety’s landed its largest account two years ago, United Airlines. After a blind taste test, Gayety’s was selected from among 45 competitors to provide chocolates for the airline’s p.s. service, a premium transcontinental service, between New York and San Francisco or Los Angeles.
As part of the service, United gives chocolate truffles to its customers. Flessor thinks United might have gotten in touch with his company after the storefront was featured last year on a segment by the Food Network, “Top 5: Chocolate Fantasies.”
“Thank goodness for the Internet,” Flessor says. “After that segment aired, Internet sales just jumped, and they jump again every time they rerun that episode. I think God has a lot to do with this, too. How does a small little company in Lansing get this much attention?”
While other candy manufacturers have had to shut their doors, Gayety’s are wide open.
“We offer the finest ingredients, and we don’t skimp,” Flessor said. “We don’t offer rock-bottom prices. But it’s the old question of whether people want a Chevy or a Cadillac.
As new restaurants open with their gleaming stainless steel and frosted glass, Gayety’s has an atmosphere almost as old fashioned as its product.
“We invested a lot of money in our store as a gathering place to celebrate life,” Flessor says. “Anyone can sell ice cream and chocolate, but we have a beautiful place.”
While other businesses with less success have opened additional locations, Flessor says Gayety’s is sticking with a single store.
“We thought about more stores, but like to keep close control,” he adds.