It’s not Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, but until they open their doors, the Ethel M Chocolate Factory is more than good enough for me. Ethel M’s is located in Henderson, Nevada, just outside of Las Vegas. The building is easy to find, with a few signs to help guide you into the parking lot. It’s a lot bigger than it looks from the outside, but since you’re in the desert you probably won’t waste any time getting from your car to the air conditioned building across the lot.
Ethel M was started by the head of M&M Mars, who – as the story goes – was bored with retirement and wanted to get back to his roots of producing high quality, handmade chocolates. It was started in 1978, named after the mother of the founder of the company, and has been around ever since. The chocolate always had a really high quality, homey feel to it and, for years, had low prices to match. The company relaunched as Ethel’s Chocolate (although they still go by Ethel M), introduced some higher end chocolates and raised their prices a bit. I have always been a fan of Ethel M and didn’t love the price hike, but the chocolates are still definitely worth the price when I’ve got a craving for them – or happen to be in the neighborhood of their chocolate factory outside of Vegas!
When you walk in, the first thing you’ll notice is the M&M World gift shop. You’ve got to cross it to get to the starting point of their free chocolate factory tour. The tour is a short, well-laid out walk-through of the history of the company and the rooms where the chocolates are made, molded and packaged. It’s hard to tell from the outside, but the factory is actually huge – over 114,000 square feet!
The day I visited, they were molding white chocolate. This guy was pouring tempered chocolate into a machine that pumped the chocolate into waiting molds. The filled molds were carried on a conveyor belt through a cooling chamber, that allowed them to set up firmly without loosing any of their shine.
The best part of the tour is at the end, where you get to have a few free samples of chocolate! They usually sample whatever chocolates they are currently producing (the ones you saw in the previous rooms), in addition to their signature pecan brittle (my favorite!). The brittle is very crisp, but also very tender, and it has a fantastic buttery, nutty, sweet-salty flavor to it. It’s a must-try if you like pecans. The chocolates are excellent, too. The white chocolate has a really nice dairy flavor and isn’t too sweet, while the milk and dark chocolates are both very, very creamy and smooth.
After the samples, you are let out in the company store, where you can pick your own assortment of chocolate from their well-stocked case or simply pick up a whole box of a favorite type. They don’t generally sample from the case, but if you end up buying a few boxes as gifts (which I did), the super-nice sales people will usually let you taste an extra piece of your choosing – if you ask nicely!
My assortment, below, contained pecan brittle, dark chocolate coconut delights, peanut butter peanuts, lemon meringues, white chocolate strawberry cheesecake truffles and key lime truffles. They do lots of mail order, but if you are taking your chocolates to-go, they’ll pack them in a bag with a few ice packs to keep the chocolates from melting in the hot desert sun on your way home.
Ethel M Chocolate Factory
One Sunset Way
Henderson, NV 89014