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Sweet traditions at Hoffman’s Chocolate to stay, despite company sale

By Alexandra Clough - Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

It’s a bittersweet day at Hoffman’s Chocolate in Greenacres: The longtime family business has sold to a publicly traded company in Fort Lauderdale.

BBX Capital Corp. on Tuesday bought Hoffman’s Chocolate and its subsidiaries, Boca Bons and Good Fortunes. The price was not disclosed, but it will become public when BBX files its annual report in March.

Hoffman’s has been in business since 1975, starting out in downtown Lake Worth at 813 Lucerne Ave. In the late 1980s, Hoffman’s moved to 5190 Lake Worth Rd. in Greenacres, which is a store and the chocolate factory.

Through the years, families throughout Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast have come to know Hoffman’s for its Holiday Wonderland, where families wander the forest of lighted displays or snuggle with Santa when he makes his frequent appearances.

After visiting the outdoor gardens, customers often make their way to the shop, where chocolate-covered pretzels are a favorite. Hoffman’s makes more than 70 varieties of confections.

Hoffman’s President Fred Meltzer said Wednesday that he and wife, Sandra, daughter of founder Paul Hoffman, were ready to take the company to another level but needed more money to do it.

“We were at the crossroads, with so many opportunities for the company. We wanted to keep the soul of Hoffman’s the way it is but also wanted to expand it with the appropriate amount of capital,” Meltzer said. “With BBX Capital, it gives the opportunity to accomplish those objectives.” Meltzer expects more jobs will be created.

Meltzer said the deal had the blessing of Paul Hoffman, who still is concocting recipes for the company.

Although the sale marks the end of an era, BBX President Jarett Levan said he will respect the Hoffman’s legacy.

“We have no plans on changing the recipes or strategies,” Levan said. “We want to make them better and bigger. I love the brand, and I love the chocolate and want more people to enjoy what I enjoy.”

Meltzer, 55, said he plans to stay on as president and Sandra, 49, as vice president. (Both of their daughters also work there.) Levan will be chief executive.

“We have no intention of leaving anytime soon,” Meltzer said. “We want to retire from Hoffman’s many years from now.”

Meltzer came to Hoffman’s in 1988 after buying part of Paul Hoffman’s shares. Eventually, he and Sandra became friends, then best friends, and then they wed in 2011.

Under Meltzer’s leadership, the company diversified. It also reopened a downtown Lake Worth store in 2013, at 705 Lake Ave. The company’s offerings include gift baskets for individual and corporate customers. Retail stores feature not only chocolate but also ice cream. The company has about 100 employees full-time working seasonally now.

But life hasn’t always been a box of chocolates for Hoffman’s.

In 2004, Hurricane Frances created a power outage that led to a $1 million loss at the Greenacres chocolate factory, when the candy melted in the heat. Meltzer learned his lesson and installed backup generators.

Since then, Meltzer has toyed with launching a franchise program but it hasn’t yet commenced. That idea could be revived under BBX, he said.

Talks about selling the business began through a longtime friendship with the Meltzers, Levan said. BBX used to own BankAtlantic, Hoffman’s longtime bank. BankAtlantic was sold to BB&T.

Levan said BBX, a diversified company that includes real estate, was attracted to Hoffman’s because it fits its target criteria: A company that generates between $5 million to $100 million in revenue.

“What’s important to us is finding mature businesses with good growth opportunities and good management,” Levan said.

Indeed, Levan said discussions are underway about growing the business, including adding new stores, and new lines of business through other acquisitions.

But don’t worry about the Hoffman’s Holiday Wonderland. Levan pledges it will remain.

“We love the Holiday Wonderland,” Levan said. “I was there Saturday night with my family, and the store was jam packed.”

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