The History of Gertrude Hawk Chocolates
How it All Began
Gertrude (Jones) Hawk began working in a local candy shop in Scranton, Pennsylvania at the age of 12 in 1915. She left school after her father died young and her mother took ill, leaving Gertrude to support her family. It was in this candy shop that Gertrude learned and came to love the art of chocolate making.
In 1936, at the height of the Great Depression, Gertrude felt she could put her knowledge and love for the art of chocolate making toward beginning her own business. By this time she had married Elmer Hawk and had two sons, Elmer R. and Richard. Her husband was a cars salesman and Gertrude was looking to make a little extra money for her family. And so began Gertrude Hawk Chocolates that year in the kitchen of her family’s small home in the Bunker Hill section of Scranton, Pennsylvania.
The business remained steady for many years selling chocolates from their home and providing chocolates for local church fundraisers. When Gertrude’s son Elmer returned home from World War II he made the decision to become business partners with his parents. He took the pay he received from his service in the war and purchased machinery and equipment for the fledgling candy business. “I liked the candy business,” says Elmer. “Maybe because I liked eating chocolate. It’s a fun business. Very rarely do you meet someone who doesn’t enjoy chocolate.”
In 1948 Elmer married a school teacher, Louise (Horger) Hawk. Louise slowly became involved with the family business, working with the business’s financials. At this time, Gertrude began the work to promote and establish the fundraising side of the business. The fundraising approach turned out to be a visionary business decision. It was an effective and practical way to get the business’s name and product out to a broad base in the community.
Elmer and Louise, now with four children, learned in 1959 that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation would be taking Gertrude Hawk’s home on Mark Avenue in Scranton for the construction of Interstate 81. Elmer began searching for a suitable location for the business and for his parents to live. At this point, the business was grossing six-digits a year and would benefit from the expansion. Eventually they found a piece of land less than three miles away off of the newly constructed Interstate 81 on Drinker Street in Dunmore, Pennsylvania. A new building was built that included a factory, retail shop and restaurant. The factory began production in 1962, with the retail store and restaurant opening in 1963. “When we moved from Mark Avenue to Drinker Street, that’s when I knew we were going to succeed,” said Elmer.
Over the next 25 years, seven additions were added to the original building on Drinker Street to accommodate for the business’s growth. The restaurant operated until 1973, when it closed to make room for a larger retail store. Additional retail stores were opened in strategic locations around Northeastern Pennsylvania and Upstate New York. In 1971, Elmer and Louise’s oldest son David joined the company and began working alongside his father and in 1979, Elmer bought out his parents and became owner and president of Gertrude Hawk Chocolates.
Pictured left: The location on Drinker Street in Dunmore, Pennsylvania
In the early 1980’s, David took a trip to England to look at new machinery. It was on that trip that David discovered the revolutionary one-shot shellmolding process of producing molded chocolates. Upon his return from the trip, David convinced his father to invest in one of the new shellmolding machines. The purchase of that new machine was the defining moment that launched Gertrude Hawk Chocolates in an entirely new direction. In 1984, Smidgens® were born and became the first product produced with the new shellmolding machinery. Smidgens® are now the number one best seller for Gertrude Hawk Chocolates.
In 1988 the company broke ground in the Keystone Industrial Park in Dunmore, just five miles from the Drinker Street location. Manufacturing and operations began in the new facility in 1990 and remain in the same location today. The building has undergone numerous expansions and renovations, including the acquisition of a large warehouse across the street to house finished goods and offices. Gertrude Hawk passed away in 1987. She never got to see the manufacturing facility her son and grandson built to expand the business, but she did see the American dream become a family heirloom.
Elmer and his son David worked together as partners until Elmer’s retirement in 1992. David became President and Chief Executive Officer, continuing his grandparents’ and parents’ dedication to the production of quality chocolate products.
What We're Doing Today
In 2003 Bill Aubrey, formerly of Kraft Foods, became Chief Executive Officer while David remained Chairman of the Board. Bill and David have led the company a long way from its fundraising roots. Gertrude Hawk Chocolates has become a business with four divisions: Retail, Fundraising, Ingredients/Contract Manufacturing and Wholesale. All divisions are based on the same principles Gertrude Hawk established when founding the business in 1936. The ingenuity and creativity that propelled Gertrude Hawk Chocolates to the success it has achieved is still present in every aspect of the business today.
With over 60 retail store locations located across Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey and a growing e-commerce website, the company’s signature Smidgens® remain the number one retail seller. With the addition of hand-dipped specialties such as caramel apples, strawberries and ice cream, shopping for Gertrude Hawk Chocolate remains a tradition at Christmas and Easter.
The Fundraising division that helped to build the foundation of Gertrude Hawk’s business has grown and expanded into two different lines of fundraising. The traditional brochure fundraiser is offered in the fall and spring, with seasonal favorites at a generous profit to the sellers. The candy bar fundraiser came later as a quick sale option that can be held all year. The Gertrude Hawk Chocolate fundraising candy bar carriers have become a staple in many schools and organizations across the country.
Ingredient and Contract Manufacturing has grown to become the largest division of Gertrude Hawk Chocolates. By creating new and innovative technology and processes to create ice cream and baking inclusions, Gertrude Hawk Chocolates has become a leader in the Ingredients market. Wide-ranging capabilities, a creative research and development team and unmatched quality produces lasting partnerships with customers. Many of the ingredient and contract manufacturing products Gertrude Hawk Chocolates produces can be found in national brands and stores across the country.
The traditional Wholesale division provides our specialty chocolates to customers made from the highest quality ingredients and time-honored recipes. A wide range of products from bulk chocolates, packaged chocolates and private label products are offered to customers for re-sale in their own stores and businesses.
Through all the changes and growth, Gertrude Hawk Chocolates is still a privately, family owned business. While simultaneously running several businesses within the Gertrude Hawk Chocolates organization, all the chocolates produced remain true to the traditional time-honored recipes founded by Gertrude Hawk herself. Gertrude Hawk Chocolates remains focused on paving the way for new and exciting ways for customers to enjoy the taste of chocolate.