Old Church Shops to become Stanley Chocolate Factory

When John Cullen purchased The Old Church Shops at 157 W. Elkhorn Ave. in January of 2022, he had a big dream. Now, that dream is becoming a reality.

Work will begin in the next couple of months on the F.O. Stanley Chocolate Factory.

“This is one of the great historical buildings on Elkhorn,” Cullen said. “This building pre-dates The Stanley. It quite frankly needed some financial love. It was a successful small market with about a dozen tenets in it. It never had enough of an anchor to make any of the tenets themselves successful.”

File photo

John Cullen is President & CEO of Grand Heritage Management LLC, the company he founded in 1989 and Owner of Grand Holdings, LLC, the owner of several hotels in USA, Mexico and UK.

The F.O. Stanley Chocolate Factory will offer an interactive experience where visitors not only get to buy chocolate, they get to make their own and learn about the process along the way.

“I think it’s exciting that we can offer something fun for people to do on a cold or rainy day,” Cullen emphasized. “Kids can come by and in an hour-and-a-half process, they learn about the farmers who grow cocoa, how it’s brought to the U.S., how it’s processed. Every single person will make chocolate their own way.”

The F.O. Stanley Chocolate Factory will then reward the visitors with a patent from the F.O. Stanley Chocolate Factory for their invention.

Cullen explained that F.O. Stanley was one of the most prolific inventors of his time 120 years ago. He had 139 patents by the age of 30.

The F.O. Stanley Chocolate Factory will offer an interactive experience where visitors not only get to buy chocolate, they get to make their own and learn about the process along the way. (Grand Heritage/Courtesy photo)

“Today’s youth will get to taste a little of that,” he added.

Cullen has toyed with the idea of a chocolate factory in Estes Park for more than a decade. The original plan was to open in the Carriage House. Now that building is home to Aiden Sinclair’s Underground and The Post Chicken & Beer, both of which are extremely successful.

Building to be restored

The Old Church Shops was originally (of course) a church, the Presbyterian Community Church of the Rockies.

Cullen plans to restore the building to the white exterior it had when it was built in 1905. His company is in the process of getting exterior permits from the Town of Estes Park to re-do the siding and windows.

“It’s really an all wood building,” he pointed out. “The red stone up the front façade was put up in the 80s. We’re going to take it down to window height and bring back the white wooden exterior.”

Moving forward

Lift Chocolate was founded in 2015. Brandon Busch is the owner. (Lift Chocolate/Courtesy photo)

Only one tenet remains in The Old Church Shops. The Wild Rose restaurant has a lease for another two years. After that time, Cullen plans to use that space for a chocolate production facility.

The F.O. Stanley Chocolate Factory will have a joint venture with a part in Boulder called Life Chocolates. The factor will produce chocolate primarily for Whole Foods and Williams Sonoma.

The owner of Lift Chocolate, Brandon Busch, was a Lieutenant Colonel I the Marines and served two tours in Afghanistan as a helicopter pilot. When he served in the military delivering emergency supplies, his code name was “The Candy Man.” He used his VA benefits to learn how to make chocolates.

“He’s the perfect person for this venture,” Cullen stressed. “He is a Colorado boy who married his high school sweetheart. He lives in Denver and has three kids and when we start manufacturing, he will move up here.”

The F.O. Stanley Chocolate Factor will employ 20 to 30 people at the beginning, a number that Cullen said will increase substantially when manufacturing begins.

“I’m excited to be part of the Elkhorn and Cleave St. refurbishment,” Cullen stated. “We want to make this a fun pedestrian part of town for visitors. This will be a great anchor in the middle of the street. I’ve set aside a couple of million dollars for this project, but you never know how much I’ll finally spend.”

Cullen calls the factor a “great expansion” of The Stanley brand. More than 200,000 guests will take a tour of the hotel this year. Cullen staged a trial run of the chocolate factory model in a conference room at The Stanley to test how to teach children about chocolate while entertaining them.

“It will be successful for kids and parent and grandparents,” he stressed. “This will be something they can do together. One mother told me, ‘My kids absolutely loved it. I sat for an hour, had coffee and read a newspaper for the first time I two weeks. I’d pay double if you would take my husband on the tour with them.’”

Cullen believes the project will be a win-win for the town and The Stanley. He has plans to invest heavily over the next couple of years in infrastructure to connect the hotel with downtown. Those plans include sidewalks and bicycle paths.

“It’s time for The Stanley and the town to connect physically and economically,” he said.

The F.O. Stanley Chocolate Factory is slated to open by Memorial Day 2023.

The site at 157 W. Elkhorn will be open the evening of the Glow Parade, Nov. 25, offering hot chocolate to visitors.

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About Pep Dekekr

Pep loves Estes Park, he lives here with his family and hopes to bring people to Estes Park and Estes Park to the people. Along with his wife Paige, they own EstesPark.com.

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