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Ethel M Chocolates is celebrating its 30th anniversary

When taking a bite into Ethel M Chocolates’ treats such as pecan brittle or satin cremes, people are tasting not only original creations but also 30 years of history.

“Not much has changed in 30 years,” said Jennifer Gudgel, director of gourmet chocolates for Ethel M Chocolates. “We still have the original kitchen from 30 years ago.”

The factory at 1 Sunset Way, which opened in 1981, is celebrating its 30th anniversary.

In honor of his mother, Ethel , Forrest Mars Sr. brought the recipes that she produced in her kitchen in Washington in 1911 to a factory in Henderson . Mars lived above the factory until the mid-1980s after production picked up. He died July 1, 1999.

“Some of the people who have been here since it opened tell stories of seeing him walk down the stairs and take his dog on walks,” Gudgel said. “They still refer to him as Mr. Mars.”

In the kitchen, the same mixers and rollers are there, along with new machines to temper and melt the chocolates.

Unlike industrial manufacturers, which produce a massive quantity of chocolate, Ethel M does smaller batches.

“It is because we don’t use preservatives,” Gudgel said. “Ethel would have never used preservatives, and we try to keep the recipes true to what she did. Our chocolate has a shelf life of four to six weeks. But if you can spread out (eating your chocolate) that long, more power to you for having self-control.”

Along with chocolate, Ethel M makes its own caramel for treats such as caramel apples, and peanut butter for creations such as pecan brittle.

Even though most of the chocolate creations are true to the original recipes, Ethel M has produced some new concoctions over the years.

“We have a chef (Jin Caldwell ),” Gudgel said. “We usually sit down with her and come up with a few ideas of what we want, but we let her be creative.”

The chef brings back her ideas, some of which are based on food trends and what’s happening in the market.

As part of the larger Mars corporation, Ethel M also tests products, such as a chocolate granola treat, that is used in other regions of the country. With seasonal treats, such as the holiday peppermint bark, the staff has to retest the recipe every year to make sure it have it perfect for customers.

“We have people come in with bins of peppermint bark,” Gudgel said.

The staff again tastes the recipe to make sure it is up to standards.

“They are also asking if we want to try things,” said Honey Stoll, gourmet chocolate coordinator. “There are some creations I just can’t say no to.”

But the staff doesn’t get tired of chocolate.

“We are used to eating at least two pieces a day,” Gudgel said.

Gudgel’s chocolate career has had one side effect on her personal life.

“If I ever go home for Thanksgiving and don’t have chocolate, I am pretty much shown the door,” Gudgel said jokingly.

Gudgel makes sure if she goes on vacation, she buys a box of chocolates to keep in her hotel room.

But Gudgel is happy to share her chocolate.

“Whenever I go on a trip, I stop by the Ethel M (store) in the airport and get chocolates for the flight attendants,” Gudgel said. “It totally brightens up their day.”

The factory sees about 700,000 tourists a year and can have up to 200 tour buses stop by a week to take a tour on the way to or from Hoover Dam.

In addition to the chocolate samples and free chocolate factory tour, the facility has a 3-acre cactus garden, which was built in 1983.

Gudgel said there are more than 300 types of cactuses and desert plants in the garden.

“We also have lots of little friends,” Gudgel said. “We have bunnies and lizards. You would never think we would because we are in kind of an industrial area. But we have lots of animals.”

The garden is taken care of by a retired factory worker.

Gudgel hopes people come visit the garden, especially when it gets cooler and Ethel M puts on holiday events.

Ethel M is open from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and has tours running from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

For more information, visit ethelm.com.

Contact Henderson and Anthem View reporter Michael Lyle at mlyle@viewnews.com or 387-5201.

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