Made in PA

Sweet Success: From a Scranton Kitchen to a Household Name, Gertrude Hawk Chocolates Builds a Family-Owned Legacy

Fall 2018 Catalyst

Back in 1915, when Gertrude Hawk was only 12 years old, she began working in a candy shop in Scranton, Pennsylvania. While her reason for working there was out of necessity (her father died young and her mother fell ill, leaving her to support her family financially) she soon learned and found a love for the art of chocolate making. 


That’s why in the mid-1930’s, in the midst of a Great Depression, Hawk (who by that time was married with two sons) became determined to combat the lean economy by putting her knowledge and passion for chocolate making behind building her own business. Gertrude Hawk Chocolates was born in 1936 in the kitchen of her family’s small home in Scranton. The products were deemed delicious and were a hit among locals, which helped the Hawks run a steady business for many years.  After their son Elmer returned home from the war in the 1940’s, he made the decision to partner with his parents — taking the pay he received from his service to purchase machinery and equipment that would help the family-run company grow. “I liked the candy business,” Elmer says, “Maybe because I liked eating chocolate. It’s a fun business. Very rarely do you meet someone who doesn’t enjoy chocolate.”


A Family Affair

As time went on, Gertrude Hawk made the visionary decision to promote and establish the fundraising side of the business, as it was an effective and practical way to get the company’s name and products out to the broad-based community. Gertrude Hawk Chocolates continued to expand out of its small family kitchen until 1959, when the state Dept. of Transportation announced it was taking the Hawk home for the construction of Interstate 81. Elmer Hawk found a big piece of land off of the newly constructed highway’s Dunmore exit, on which the company built a factory, retail shop and restaurant — all of which were opened in the early 1960’s. 


Over the next 25 years, seven additions were made to the building in Dunmore to accommodate the business’s growth. The restaurant operated until 1973, when it closed to make room for a larger retail store.  Additional retail stores were opened in locations around Northeastern Pennsylvania and upstate New York. In 1971, Elmer and Louise’s oldest son David joined the company and began working alongside his father; and in 1979, Elmer bought out his parents and became owner and president of Gertrude Hawk Chocolates.


The Birth of the Smidgen

In the early 1980’s, David took a trip to England to look at new machinery. It was on that trip that he discovered a revolutionary one-shot shell molding process to produce molded chocolates. Upon his return, David convinced his father to invest in a shell molding machine — a decision that launched the company into a new direction. In 1984, Smidgens® were born and became the first product produced with the shell molding machinery. Smidgens® — bite-sized milk, dark or white chocolates that are either solid or filled with a variety of creamy centers – remain the number one best-seller for Gertrude Hawk Chocolates.


Gertrude Hawk lived to see the birth of the Smidgen and the undeniable positive impact it had on her family’s company. While she passed away in 1987 — a few years before a new manufacturing and operations facility opened in Dunmore — she did get to see her dream of a successful chocolate making business realized. Elmer and his son, David, worked together as partners until Elmer’s retirement in 1992, after which David became president and Chief Executive Officer, continuing his grandparents’ and parents’ dedication to producing high quality chocolate products here in Pennsylvania.


True to Their Roots

There have been several changes in the years since, all of which have been positive for this successful and driven company. In 1995, Gertrude Hawk Chocolates began a new division for ingredients and contract manufacturing that quickly became the biggest division of the company through the creation of new and innovative technology and processes to create ice cream and baking inclusions. In the early 2000’s, Bill Aubrey, formerly of Kraft Foods, became Chief Executive Officer while David remained Chairman of the Board. Working together, the duo helped Gertrude Hawk Chocolates become the leader in the ingredients market with wide-ranging capabilities, a creative research and development team and unmatched quality that produced lasting partnerships with customers.  Barry Callebaut, the world’s leading manufacturer of high-quality chocolate and cocoa products, acknowledged this; and in 2017, he acquired the Ingredients Division from Gertrude Hawk Chocolates.


After the acquisition, Gertrude Hawk Chocolates returned to its roots by focusing on three business divisions: Retail, Fundraising and Wholesale.  All three divisions are based on the same principles Gertrude Hawk established when she founded the business. The ingenuity and creativity that propelled Gertrude Hawk Chocolates to the success it has achieved is still present in every aspect of the business today. In 2018, the manufacturing facility and offices moved to an existing warehouse and new facility in Dunmore, where they continue to craft world-class products. 


Through all the changes and growth, Gertrude Hawk Chocolates is still a privately, family owned business. All the chocolates produced remain true to the traditional time-honored recipes founded by Gertrude Hawk herself. With the new facility only four miles from the original house in Scranton, Gertrude Hawk Chocolates is proud to have its storied history and dynamic future rooted in Northeastern Pennsylvania.


Founded in 1916, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry is the state's largest broad-based business association, with its membership comprising businesses of all sizes and across all industry sectors. The PA Chamber is The Statewide Voice of BusinessTM.