It’s About More Than Flavor at Schakolad Chocolate Factory
Writer / Jamie Hergott
Photographer / Amy Payne
The team at Schakolad Chocolate Factory in Plainfield will celebrate their fourth anniversary in December. Owner Ali Dixon says the shop began as a way to make her dream come to life, and to cover college costs. However, her journey and focus has changed as a result of a cancer diagnosis and the COVID pandemic.
But she wouldn’t trade her journey for anything.
“I got this little chocolate store for a reason,” Dixon says. “Now I know why.”
Schakolad Chocolate Factory is a custom retail chocolate boutique that carries an array of chocolate novelties, assorted chocolates, and gelato. They even have chocolate-covered strawberries and caramel apples year round.
Dixon originally wanted to have her own sweets shop because of her family’s history with candy and chocolate. All the women in her family have been creative, making everything from crafts to hard candy to chocolates, molds and cordials.
Dixon has a distinctly fond memory of when she was about 8 years old. Her family was in the kitchen making naughty molds, and chocolate truffles with alcohol. Dixon was shooed out at her young age to prevent her from seeing or trying them, but she laughs at the memory.
Dixon’s husband is a race-car driver, and they settled in Avon after they got married to start their family. After their children grew, Dixon began the search for something she could pour her time and energy into. She started exploring sweet-shop options, and she landed on the Schakolad franchise because she knew they would allow her to be creative and make her own items along with the signature Schakolad items. After attending chocolate school in Florida with her son, they opened Schakolad four years ago at the Shops at Perry Crossing.
Dixon loves what she does because of the people she gets to meet, the stories she gets to hear, and the confections she gets to dream up.
“People come in, we meet and talk, and they share their stories,” Dixon says. “Even when my cancer ordeal came up, it continued through emails and cards in the mail from customers.”
Dixon became more aware of others’ stories when her own took a drastic turn in January of 2020. That month, Dixon found a lump in her breast. She didn’t think much of it, and she put off getting it checked out because of the holidays and the COVID-19 pandemic.“I don’t recommend putting things like this off to anyone,” Dixon says.
When COVID hit that March, any thoughts of doctor’s appointments fell by the wayside as Dixon and her family worked to keep Schakolad afloat. Even when the world was shut down, chocolate was deemed essential by the local health department, so Dixon kept her shop open, working around the clock offering curbside service and making free deliveries all over Indianapolis. As hard as it was, she has fond memories of working those long hours with her teenage daughter Alanna.
Mother’s Day, Easter and graduations kept her busy through the spring, but Dixon finally went to get checked out in July, and she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was immediately put on a plan of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Every time she underwent chemotherapy, she told herself that it wasn’t trying to kill her – it was trying to save her.
“I met so many women in this process who helped me,” Dixon says. “They told me to drink a gallon of water a day, and to use mouthwash to prevent the sores in my mouth from chemo. I did all the things these women told me to do, and it lessened the effects. I didn’t feel too bad through it.”Soon, however, her levels dropped and her doctor told her she couldn’t be around anyone. Her body would struggle to fight off even the common cold. She took the midnight shift at Schakolad with her mother Brenda and her sister Andrea. Together they restocked the shelves each night in time for the store to open in the morning, and Dixon’s husband Larry did full-time delivery for her.
“We’d mask up, and we’d be there remaking everything through the night, even during chemo,” Dixon says. “I’d drive home at 6:50, grab my son, drive him to school, and sleep all day like most people with chemo do. We really had fun. It’s such a good memory. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
A local woman posted on county social media pages about Dixon’s condition, and local people turned out to support Schakolad during the last months of 2020. The shelves were empty each night. She was incredibly grateful for how the community came together to support her and her business during a dark time.
Her daughter’s Brownsburg soccer team made Dixon a shirt to wear while their crosstown rival team, Avon, wore shirts with her name on them just before the playoffs.
With an exploding customer base and stellar staff, Dixon credits others with helping her business and life thrive.
“I’ve heard people say teens are lazy and entitled today,” Dixon says. “My kids in my store hit home run after home run after home run. They did the shopping, the organizing, and their work ethic is so good. My team is fantastic.”
One of the biggest parts of her team is her family. Her husband and dad work behind the scenes to get the store up and running, taking care of handyman items, and both her parents are full-time taste testers. Dixon’s oldest son Donovan helps to cover shifts, do the store’s grocery shopping, and handle bank deposits.
“I’m just sitting here and smiling about it all,” Dixon says. “I have so much to be thankful for.”
She says her cancer journey has changed her focus and trajectory completely. She was very hands-on during her first two years, and as such wasn’t able to seize the opportunities she’s seeing now to serve her community and give back.
One of her big dreams is to create a Hendricks County women’s Facebook page to support women with breast cancer. She also has a vision to do monthly breakfasts for families affected by a cancer diagnoses. She’s passionate about bringing the community together to give the support and love she has felt so strongly in her cancer journey.
“I want to give hope to people,” Dixon says. “I want to share the stories that make you breathe easier, like the people who are decades out from their cancer diagnosis, loving their families, running marathons, living life.”
Now she views her shop as more than a business. It’s a place to bring people together and give back. The shop itself is different than other businesses because, as Dixon puts it, it’s a happy place.“My parents ran a health club when I was growing up,” Dixon says. “People would walk in there thinking, ‘Now I have to work out,’ but they walk in here and they come in happy.”
It’s a family affair, as all of Dixon’s children have worked in the store as well as her mother and sister. Her family and staff all help come up with ideas for new products. She describes a recent afternoon when her 15-year-old son Luke asked her for peanut butter fudge. As most moms do, she obliged, and as she was making it, Luke said, “I wonder what it would taste like if you used brown sugar.” She did, and the final product was so delicious, she texted him at school to tell him it tasted just like caramel fudge.
“I think that’s why people like our store,” Dixon says. “We make 90% of what’s in here. We come up with it, we try it and we get creative.”One staff member who is allergic to pecans began making turtles with cashews. Now they’re sold regularly in the case along with other gluten- and dairy-free items. “I’m a yes girl,” Dixon says. “I’ve had people ask me to dip pickles in chocolate, and jalapeños. We try a lot of things.”
Her kettles are constantly tempering chocolate so it’s at the perfect temperature for dipping and creating. This means that it’s heated to a very hot temperature, then chilled to shock it so the fats separate from the cocoa, then returned to a normal temperature. Others have tried unsuccessfully to recreate her chocolate.
“That chocolate is tempered every day to keep it happy,” Dixon says.
Currently, Dixon is giving away chocolate suckers for every donation to breast cancer research. She’s close to $2,000 and still going strong, with plans to continue her philanthropic endeavors and branch out in supporting different types of cancer research each year.
“It was fun and I was looking forward to a paycheck, but that’s not the goal anymore,” Dixon says. “Cancer has totally changed my path, and I’m lucky enough to have been shown why I’m on it and what I need to do. What a gift that is.”
Schakolad Chocolate Factory is located at 351 Marketplace Mile, Unit 160 in Plainfield. For more info, call 317-838-0830 or visit schakolad.com.