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Area women turn chocolate-making hobby into business

Pier 21 Chocolatiers offers small batch, hand-crafted artisan bonbons

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July 1, 2024

SUAMICO/GREEN BAY – A labor of love mixed with art and science – that is how Pier 21 Chocolatiers Co-owners Nicole Everson and Jackie Jirschele said they describe their bonbon creations.

Jirschele said not only do the small chocolate confections tempt the taste buds, their one-of-a-kind designs are a feast for the eyes as well.

The idea behind Pier 21 Chocolatiers was inspired by the duo’s shared hobby – something fun to do for family and friends, especially around the holidays. 

“Nicole and I are best friends,” Jirschele said. “We actually built homes in the same subdivision and live just two doors down from each other. We both love to bake and have been making these chocolates for about three years now for our friends and family at Christmas time.”

Jirschele said they were always being encouraged to sell their creations.

“We always just laughed at that, especially since we were both busy with little kids and other things going on in life,” she said. “But, we finally decided this past Christmas, after making them again, that we really love doing it, so we decided we’d try to make a go of it as a business.”

From there, the women said they started laying the groundwork for their business – which included incorporation, logo design and everything else that goes into starting a business, including coming up with a name.

With the start of the new year, Jirschele said Pier 21 Chocolatiers was born – and in March, they opened for business.

“When we started this business, we realized we had to find a meaningful name – one that made sense for both of us and the passion that we have and our history,” she said. 

When the friends met in 2017, they said they quickly discovered that they were both transplants.

Everson had grown up in Holland and, though Jirschele grew up in Canada, her maternal grandparents and her mother emigrated from the Netherlands in the 1950s. 

Nicole Everson and Jackie Jirschele are the co-owners of Pier 21 Chocolatiers. Submitted Photo

As the search for a name continued, Jirschele said they began perusing the internet – eventually finding themselves researching the history of the Netherlands and Canada.

She said they found out that there were a few ports on the east side of Canada where the ships would stop when the Dutch immigrated to Canada from Holland – with one of the main ports being Pier 21.

When the boats docked at this terminal, Jirschele said passengers were served milk, cookies and coffee.

The pair said that struck them as beautiful, meaningful and very symbiotic. 

“We thought that was so neat, and it really complemented what we were doing,” she said. “It’s just such a cool story, and it brings both my and Nicole’s backgrounds together.”

Learning the art of being a chocolatier 

Jirschele said one doesn’t just decide to start making and selling bonbons to the public – especially the kind Pier 21 offers.

Their bonbons, she said, need to be made in a very specific way.

With that in mind, the duo said they decided to expand their hobby knowledge and enroll in an online course to further hone their skills.

“It’s almost like a science, and it’s all about how you temper the chocolates,” she said. “You definitely have to take classes in order to understand the crystallization of fat in the cocoa butter and how it makes such a shine.”

The shine of Pier 21 bonbons, Jirschele said, is directly related to “how you temper the chocolate, which means how you (heat and cool it).”

“So, you heat it up to a certain point, let it cool down to a certain point and then heat it up slightly more to get a specific form of fat, which shows the shine,” she said.

Jirschele said they enjoy being creative with their bonbon designs – and are passionate about making “things look very pretty.” 

“We’re able to do really cool designs and be very unique in what we do,” she said. “We like to make specific flavors for specific seasons or holidays. We have so much fun just sitting down and figuring out what kind of artwork we’re going to do on them. We talk about the colors, what kind of designs we’re going to do, and so forth. We like to be very artsy.”

Though the design is the same from batch to batch or tray to tray, Jirschele said because they’re all hand-painted, with different types of brushes – every single one is slightly different.

Like fingerprints, or snowflakes, she said – no two are exactly the same.

The flavor selection of Pier 21 bonbons, Jirschele said, can also be considered artisan.  

“Recently we made a strawberry mint flavor, and we used homemade strawberry puree,” she said. “We also used actual mint leaves to infuse into the flavoring. You can really taste that versus the artificial flavors that sometimes come in other candies or chocolates.”

Each tray they use, Jirschele said, has 32 cavities and making a batch of chocolates requires four individual steps: 

  • Step 1: You do the artwork
  • Step 2: You make the outer shell
  • Step 3: After plenty of time to cool, you fill the cavities of the outer shell
  • Step 4: You cap them, which is really just putting on the bottom layer of the hard chocolate

Jirschele said they rarely make the bonbons from start to finish in one day.

Doing a couple of steps one day and the other steps the next day, she said, gives the bonbons the proper amount of drying time.

Jirschele said they make filling on the side to ensure the taste is one they like and that it has the quality they demand of their product.

The base chocolate they use for all their bonbon shells, Jirschele said, is a very high-quality Belgium chocolate called Callebaut.

“It’s a specialty item – you won’t find them in the grocery store with all the factory-made chocolates,” Everson said. “You can’t compare them with those at all.”

It’s all in the details

The flavors and designs of each batch, Jirschele said, are decided upon after lots of conversations.

“With the flavors, we get a lot of inspiration from other confectioners,” she said. “In Europe, for example, there’s a ton of people on Instagram who come up with random flavors and different artwork. You can garner inspiration from things you find there, and then make it your own.”

Pier 21 Chocolatiers bonbons are available at the Kitchen Table restaurant in Suamico, Voyageurs Sourdough Bakehouse in downtown Green Bay and online at Submitted Photo

Jirschele said there is also a very supportive social media community out there.

“We follow a bunch of chocolatiers and groups and there’s a lot that follow us,” she said. “It’s fun to see how everybody collaborates together.”

Finding a commercial kitchen

Jirschele said they could not produce the volume they’re doing in their home kitchen – so, they’re subleasing commercial kitchen space at Kitchen Table restaurant in Suamico. 

“It’s a fabulous little restaurant, and they’re closed Sundays and Mondays, so it’s perfect for us,” she said. “We feel blessed that we have a very nice facility that only has us in there and not multiple sublessors. It works out so well, and the owner in there is just the sweetest woman. She’s also allowing us to sell our bonbons from her restaurant.”

Jirschele said Pier 21 bonbons are also available at Voyageurs Sourdough Bakehouse in downtown Green Bay – as well as online at

Making the chocolates over a two-day period in a commercial kitchen, Jirschele said, requires a significant amount of calendar juggling – especially as they get busier.

But the pair said they are up to the task.

“You have to have good time management skills,” Jirschele said. “And we love this so much… it’s a creative outlet for us that happens to also be a business.”

Overcoming bumps in the road

Like any other business, Jirschele said Pier 21 Chocolatiers has encountered some difficulties along the way.

“Right when we started, chocolate started increasing in price because of bad weather where cocoa was produced,” she said. “So, we were very nervous about that. We were also nervous about even producing our gift boxes (that we sell the chocolates in). We custom made our boxes with a packaging company. It took a couple of months to find a (production facility) and then just producing the boxes is very costly. But, we’ve tried to keep our prices reasonable for the community while still trying to cover our costs.”

Jirschele said they, with the help of a good friend, designed Pier 21’s logo and gift boxes.

“He’s really good at that kind of stuff, and he was so sweet to help us,” she said. “Nicole and I came up with it, then sent it to him to see what he thought. He tweaked it for us, and we went from there.”

Future plans

At this point the chocolatiers said they have no aspirations to expand the business to where they’d need to hire anyone.

Everson said her 14-year-old daughter sometimes lends a helping hand, and their families do their part by being taste-testers and eating the mix-ups.

Looking ahead, Jirschele said they hope to secure some private and corporate parties and events, including birthday or anniversary parties, retirement parties, company get-togethers and the like.

“(Pier 21 bonbons) are perfect for those kinds of events,” she said. “We just did two trays for a gender-reveal party (recently), and that was super fun to do custom pink and blue different bonbons for them. We love doing stuff like that.”

Everson said Pier 21 has done some smaller corporate events recently and has some bigger weddings lined up for the fall.

Bonbon gift boxes, Jirschele said, also make great gifts.

“It’s such a unique gift for people to give to others,” she said. “Everyone who has (received) them as a gift has said they loved them and said how unique they are. We love opening other people’s eyes to something a little more unique that’s not typically in this area.”

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