Family-Owned Local Favorite Enjoys Its 56th Year
Writer / Rebecca Wood
Photographer / Jon Ellegood
Those who visit Donaldson’s Finer Chocolates in Lebanon may remember the famous saying that “life is like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re gonna get.” Except at this family-run chocolate store, patrons to this chocolatier know exactly what they’ll get: high-quality, handmade chocolates that have charmed customers for more than 50 years.
Donaldson’s Finer Chocolates sits on State Road 39 off I-65 in Lebanon. The business, which operates out of a former farmhouse, welcomes visitors through the front door with the sweet aroma of chocolates. Display cases laden with butter creams, truffles and caramels fill the room. Within the space, visitors can gaze through glass windows and view employees handcrafting treats.
A guest book rests on the counter with entries from customers visiting from across the nation and globe. The store’s proximity to the interstate and reputation as a premium chocolate shop draws patrons from near and far.
“Our shop remains a place people recognize,” says owner Bob Donaldson. “It’s a privilege to serve customers locally and around the world.”
Donaldson’s Finer Chocolates has operated as a family business for 56 years. Bob Donaldson co-owns Donaldson’s Finer Chocolates with his wife Kathy. The couple took over the helm of the business from Bob’s parents, George and Peg Donaldson. George and Peg opened the store in the fall of 1966.
The store was originally located in an old, two-room schoolhouse north of Lebanon. In 1972, the Donaldson’s moved the store to its current location. Then, the structure underwent several renovations to arrive at its present space. The business was initially named Donaldson’s Country Home Candies, but the name was changed to Donaldson’s Finer Chocolates in 1989.
Peg Donaldson passed away in 1994 and George continued to run the business into his 90s until his passing in 2019.
“My dad loved the joy his business gave people,” says Bob. “He was a people person and chocolates were his route to connections.”
While Bob contributed to the business as an adolescent, he entered a different profession as an adult. However, Bob returned full-time to Donaldson’s Finer Chocolates in 2010. His wife, Kathy, a former critical care nurse, joined the business in 2013.
Other family members also contribute to the business, including Bob and Kathy’s daughter-in-law and a cousin.
“This is an important family business,” Bob says. “We are proud to carry on my parent’s legacy.”
In Donaldson’s 56 years of operation, many of the well-loved products have stayed the same. In fact, all the recipes remain a family secret. Bob names the caramels as customer favorites. The pecan caramel delights and sea salt caramels are popular among guests. The buttercreams appeal to many visitors.
Donaldson’s Finer Chocolates only produces chocolates. “We are a chocolate company, and we focus on what we do best,” Bob says.
Customers have an array of chocolate choices at Donaldson’s including chocolate barks, nuts and chews, truffles and fruit pieces. Both milk chocolate and dark chocolate treats are offered. Bob and Kathy have developed a dark select line of chocolates which features a rich, 64% cocoa dark chocolate. Donaldson’s continues to increase its product line and offerings while retaining favorite products.
Customers can purchase Donaldson’s chocolates at its Lebanon store or online. Chocolate boxes can be shipped “anywhere north of the equator,” Kathy says.
Bob conveys that Donaldson’s is a gift business and the company is gearing up for a busy holiday season that includes the period between Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Corporate holiday gifts are in high demand during this season, as well. Donaldson says the store provides corporate holiday gifts for 100-150 businesses
Donaldson’s handles high customer demand well because of its staff of 15 employees. “It’s a great atmosphere and a fun place for employees to work,” Bob says. “We are a family.”
Bob and Kathy Donaldson have strong ties to Boone County. Both grew up in Lebanon and graduated from Lebanon High School. They met when Kathy worked at the chocolate shop while still in high school and still live in the community.
“We love working in Boone County,” says Bob. “We have so many roots and connections. Our store is a social gathering for people and a fun place for people to reconnect.”
Looking towards the future, Bob says Donaldson’s needs to plan for the anticipated growth in Lebanon and Boone County. With the scheduled addition of a sports complex and Lilly distribution centers in Lebanon, Donaldson’s predicts an increase in customer demand. The family is preparing for those changes in the community and how it will impact their business.
The Donaldson family expresses gratitude for its loyal customers and eagerly looks forward to serving new visitors. Donaldson’s Finer Chocolates will continue doing what they do best: making fine chocolates and spreading joy with their sweet treats.
Donaldson’s Finer Chocolates is located at 600 S State Rd 39, Lebanon, IN 46052. You can also visit them at www.donaldsonschocolates.com or contact them at 765-482-3334.