They say love makes the world go round. Well, love and chocolate. George and Peg Donaldson knew that when they purchased Donaldson’s Finer Chocolates (formerly Callane’s Finer Candies) from the original owner in 1966. The business started in a two-room schoolhouse on old 52, one mile north of Lebanon.
“The previous owners were a retired couple who ran this business as a hobby. They made maybe eight to 10 pieces. They had no phone, no air conditioning. I don’t know how they did it,” says Bob Donaldson, George & Peg’s son and current owner of Donaldson’s Finer Chocolates.
When George and Peg bought the establishment, they doubled the recipes and expanded into chocolate molds. But George didn’t quit his day job, which was vice president of a local bank. Peg ran the store for much of the day.
“Small-town bankers worked 9-3 with an hour off for lunch so it was a pretty good gig,” says Bob, who was 11 years old at the time. “Dad went to the store after work so mom could come home and take care of me and my siblings.”
In 1972, when I-65 was built between Indianapolis and Chicago, the Donaldsons relocated the store to an old farmhouse, which they refurbished. Situated at the interchange, the location was a huge blessing in terms of accessibility to customers.
“Our lifeline is I-65. It’s always really helped our business,” Bob says.
His father retired from banking in his 50s and went to work, full-time, at the chocolate shop with Peg. In 1989, the couple invested in additions and equipment. Sales really took off from there as the business began to gain traction and regular corporate clients. In fact, they have more than 100 corporate accounts who do annual gifts each Christmas.
Bob and his wife Kathy had their own careers for 40 years. Bob ran development construction companies while Kathy worked as a critical care nurse at St. Vincent. In 2010, George, 80 at the time, wanted help in running the store — an understandable request.
“My mom died in 1994 so dad carried that business for 20-plus years on his own, which is pretty incredible,” says Bob, who always knew that he would ultimately take the reins and continue running the family business. Doing so brought he and Kathy full circle as she worked at the chocolate shop when they were teenagers.
They say that running the store is a great way to spend the second stage of their lives. It’s also a wonderful way to stay engaged with the community they adore. Bob and Kathy, Zionsville residents for the past 40 years, have regularly supported nonprofits and community businesses, usually by donating chocolates to events, raffles and fundraisers.
“I get calls every week from somebody who is doing something special, but I’ve never turned anyone down,” Bob says. “Every one of their stories has touched us.”
Bob’s favorite part of running Donaldson’s Finer Chocolates is interacting with the clientele. He suspects it’s a quality he inherited from his dad.
“Dad knew everybody and was really good with names,” Bob says. “He worked up until a month before he died.” (George passed away in January 2019.)
Last year, Donaldson’s Finer Chocolates was nationally recognized when they were listed as one of the top 12 U.S. confectioners making their mark on the confectionery and chocolate industry by producing all of their chocolates the old-fashioned way, with fresh creamery butter, whole milk, pure cane sugar and premium chocolate. Their superior quality has stood the test of time — 54 years to be exact. That’s due, in part, to making small batches daily to keep it fresh.
“You’re never going to get something that’s been on the shelf for three or four months,” says Bob, adding that folks love to step inside the store just to experience the atmosphere. “They want to smell it, see it and then have a nice chat.”
He suspects that particularly in these unusual times, people find relief and comfort in the familiarity of chocolate. Though they are doing a lot more shipping and curbside pickup and have to limit the amount of bodies inside their 500 sq. ft. retail section of the store, they are happy to still be spreading the joy of chocolate.
Selling more than 70 different items, they are known for their scrumptious caramels. Their pecan delights are top sellers, as are dark chocolate treats. In fact, they created a dark chocolate line called Dark Select that is 64% cocoa (as opposed to the typical 49%).
Though people enjoy indulging in tasty treats and good conversation, Bob recognizes that they are primarily a gift business.
“People don’t buy a 5-pound box of chocolates for themselves. Actually,” he adds laughing, “they get the big box for someone else and buy a small box for themselves to eat on the drive home.”
Donaldson’s Finer Chocolates is located at 600 S. State Road 39 (Jct. I-65 and SR 39) in Lebanon. For more information, call 765-482-3334 or visit donaldsonschocolates.com.