There are no Oompa-Loompas in sight and you’re probably not going to find a Golden Ticket hidden inside a candy bar, but Whetstone Chocolates certainly has its very own Willy Wonka. Greg Morris, Production Manager at the well-known local chocolatier, works tirelessly to make all of your sweet dreams come true.
Morris is responsible for the longtime, family-owned St. Augustine confectioner’s facility as well as producing more than a dozen flavors of fudge, nearly three-dozen kinds of gelato, chocolate covered pretzels, truffles and a large assortment of specialty chocolates and caramels.
“I have orders that I have to fill and deadlines that I have to meet,” Morris says from Whetstone Chocolate’s factory located on King Street. “I’m just a very hands on person and I can’t help but get involved in every facet of the business.”
Born in Terre Haute, Indiana, Morris moved to St. Augustine at the age of 10. Today, he commutes from his home in Satsuma by the St. Johns River. Arriving around
8 am and staying until 5 pm every Monday thru Friday, Morris oversees a production crew of four. He’s also responsible for the factory’s inventory – making sure there are enough ingredients, finished goods and packaging on-hand – as well as placing orders, organizing the production schedule and maintaining the building and machinery. “I make sure that all of the equipment is running smoothly,” says Morris. “We have the caramel depositor, which dispenses hot liquid caramel over pecans and cashews and then gets covered in chocolate for our ‘stone crabs.’ Then there’s our gelato machine, which makes fresh frozen gelato.”
If you’ve ever taken a tour of the Whetstone Chocolate factory, then you know the machines Morris is referring to. If you haven’t, then you’re missing out. Depending on the season, the chocolatier offers four to eight guided tours per day for up to 25 people in a group. It begins with a history of the company, educational segment on the quality of and health benefits of chocolate and then a journey through the factory for a first-hand look.
“Tours go through the factory and see what is being made. They get to taste the fudge and artisanal wrapped shells,” Morris says. “Ultimately, the best thing about my job is that I’m everybody’s hero. It’s nice to be appreciated.”
A stop on the trolley and train tours, the Whetstone guided tour takes about 55 minutes. “I like to put on a show,” says Morris. “I make sure that there are things to see and that the tourists enjoy their time in my building. The best thing about this type of work is that we’re never making the same thing two days in a row. There’s a lot of variety.”
Founded in 1967 by Henry and Esther Whetstone, Whetstone Chocolates has become one of St. Augustine’s most successful businesses. Today, with daughter Virginia at the helm, the company boasts three chocolate retail stores including St. George and King Streets and just over the bridge on Anastasia Boulevard. There’s also Tedi’s Olde Tyme Ice Cream, which is one of the oldest (if not the oldest) continuously occupied businesses on St. George Street.
Morris joined the Whetstone family in 1989 as a production manager running the retail side of the business at its old factory space on State Road 312. He spent 12 years with the company overseeing contract work for Nestlé and Hershey before leaving to explore other career opportunities.
Fast-forward to the beginning of 2014 when Morris returned to his role as St. Augustine’s own Willy Wonka. “I have more responsibility this time around,” he explains. “But of all the things I’ve done, this has been my absolute favorite.”
As Whetstone Chocolate’s go-to for day-to-day operations, Morris is up to the challenge. He oversees full production Tuesday thru Saturday and helps develop seasonal and holiday items such as Easter bunnies, a one-pound hollow football and even custom items like port wine truffles for San Sebastian Winery.
“I found that what I enjoyed doing the most was making lots of different types of candy on a small scale rather than one type of candy on a large scale,” Morris says of his second life at Whetstone. So whether it’s keeping an eye on the wrapping of thousands of pieces of chocolate per day or making sure the chocolate blends such as Aviles milk and De Leon and Menendez dark are just right, Morris enjoys every facet of his job.
“I have a sweet tooth that is unquenchable,” Morris admits. “When I’m at home, I’m always making cookies and cakes. And, of course, I eat chocolate every day. That’s part of my job; tasting a piece of candy that comes off every line.”
Images by Brian M Miller Photography