LCH International Group which does business as American Chocolate Factory will open Guam’s first chocolate factory. Customers can purchase chocolates and view the chocolate-making process said Ling-Chi "Richie" Huang president of LCH International Group and general manager of Asahi Duty Free.

The 4 000 square-foot factory is located on the second floor of the Asahi building above Asahi Duty Free in Tumon.

Huang said he came up with the idea to open a chocolate factory on Guam after visiting several factories in Hawaii. "We visited quite a few different chocolate factories there and they always have this type of facility where customers or tourists can go inside see the machines and see how they make chocolate. That has always been very interesting to me. Since there’s nothing here on that type of scale I thought it would be a good opportunity to start something like that."

Huang plans to market the chocolates to tourists who enjoy locally produced items. "Most of our sales of chocolate are geared toward tourists. They bring it back as souvenirs to give to friends and family. Initially that is the plan."

The factory will have a retail space where chocolates will be displayed for purchase while allowing the customers to view the chocolate production line behind glass windows. The retail space can hold about 50 people.

"With the factory itself the processing area has to be very clean so I don’t think I’ll have tourists going inside. But through the glass I can have somebody explaining the process how it’s made and what each machine does " Huang said.

The only part the tourists will not see is the mixing of the products. Only Huang and his brother know the recipe for the chocolate. "We’re trying to keep it a secret because we’ve been testing it a lot "" over and over again."

"We purchase all the ingredients from different places. I have ingredients from Australia from Hawaii from the U.S. mainland from Malaysia "" from different places. I have the machines that grind the cocoa powder and make it into chocolate." The manufacturing equipment was special ordered from Taiwan and Malaysia he said. About $300 000 was invested into getting the chocolate factory up and running.

Presently the chocolates are only produced during weekends. Over a two-day period Huang can produce about 20 cartons of chocolate "" each carton containing 36 boxes of chocolates. The chocolate boxes come in two sizes "" a six-piece box and an 18-piece. His goal is to produce 40 cartons each weekend.

"If needed I can still be making more throughout the week but right now the volume is not that high yet."

Huang said it took about four months to get the recipe right. He began test marketing the chocolates in March at the Asahi Duty Free across from the Pacific Islands Club and plans to sell the chocolates at other Ashahi Duty Free stores located in the Guam Marriott Resort the Hyatt Regency Guam the Guam Hotel Okura and the Hotel Nikko Guam.

He also plans to distribute the chocolates wholesale. "My targets are Kmart the ABC stores and the retail shops along hotel row."

Choosing high quality ingredients for his chocolates "" from cocoa powder to nuts "" is very important to Huang. Although he said he could order the macadamia nuts from other sources he decided to buy them from Hawaii and Australia because of the high quality. Many of the other ingredients are available from China at lower prices but Huang said he selects suppliers from a variety of locations based on quality.

American Chocolate Factory produces two types of chocolates "" milk chocolate and chocolate-covered Macadamia nuts "" but is looking to expand its lineup in the future.

He said the milk chocolate and chocolate covered macadamia nuts are popular because most of the Hawaiian companies make those types and tourists are more familiar with them. The chocolates will range in price from $2.50 to $8 depending on the type of chocolate and size of the box.

Once the business is more established Huang hopes to expand his reach by working with wedding companies and flower shops to create customized chocolates new flavors and shapes chocolate fondues and partnering up with a cookie company that would use American Chocolate Factory chocolate in its cookies.

The soft opening will be held mid to late May with the grand opening to follow in late May or early June. The tentative business hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. everyday. Huang has four employees but his goal is to hire a total of 10. MBJ