Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco.
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In 1817, Domenico Ghirardelli was born in Rapallo, Italy, to an “exotic foods importer” and his wife. Domenico received his first education in the chocolate trade when he was apprenticed to a local candymaker as a child. By the time he was 20, Ghirardelli sailed to Uruguay with his wife to work in a chocolate and coffee business. A year later, Ghirardelli moved to Lima, Peru, and opened a confectionery store. In 1847, nine years later, James Lick (Ghirardelli’s neighbor) moved to San Francisco with 600 pounds of Ghirardelli’s chocolate. Ghirardelli remained and continued to operate his store in Peru.
The move to California
Ghirardelli Square, in San Francisco, California.
In 1849, Ghirardelli received news of the gold strike at Sutter’s Mill and sailed to California. After doing some prospecting, Ghirardelli opened a general store in Stockton, California, offering supplies and confections to fellow miners in town. Ghirardelli’s tent-based store was one of the first shops set up in the area.
Several months later, Ghirardelli opened a second store on the corner of Broadway and Battery in San Francisco, which became, in 1852, his first establishment in that city.
Early History in San Francisco
A fire on May 3, 1852 destroyed Ghirardelli’s San Francisco business, and a few days later, his Stockton store also burned down. However, in September of the same year, Ghirardelli used his remaining assets to open the Cairo Coffee House in San Francisco. This business venture proved unsuccessful, and Ghirardelli opened a new store, named “Ghirardely & Girard”, on the corner of Washington and Kearny Streets in San Francisco. Soon afterward, Ghirardelli was making enough money to send for his family, who were still living in Peru. He changed the company’s name to “D. Ghirardelli & Co.” and, in 1852, imported 200 pounds of cocoa beans. The company was incorporated in 1852 and has been in continuous operation since.
The next year, in 1853, the business relocated to the corner of Jackson and Mason Streets. By 1855, a larger manufacturing facility was needed, and so the factory was moved to the corner of Greenwich and Powell Streets, while the office remained at the previous location. By 1866, the company was importing 1000 pounds of cocoa beans a year. During this time, the company sold liquor, but dropped their line of alcoholic products in 1864. By that time, the company not only sold chocolate, but also coffee and spices to the United States, China, Japan, and Mexico. In 1885, the company imported 450,000 pounds of cocoa beans.
The Ghirardelli sign in San Francisco
In 1892, Ghirardelli retired as head of the company and was replaced by his three sons. Eight years later, Ghirardelli died at the age of 77 in Rapallo, Italy.
By 1900, Ghirardelli’s company was selling only chocolate and mustard, having sold its coffee and spices businesses. Further expansion over the years into different buildings allowed the company to expand into new markets and grow financially. In 1965, San Francisco declared Ghirardelli Square (where many of the Ghirardelli buildings were constructed) an official city landmark. Two years later, production facilities moved to San Leandro, California.