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Stories, Stats, Impacts: Wyoming Public Media is here to keep you current on the news surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

The pandemic has brought change and growth for Meeteetse Chocolatier

A man in a cowboy hat and apron smiling outside of his store
Kamila Kudelska
/
Wyoming Public Radio

Home to just 300 or so people, Meeteetse is nestled between the foot of the Absaroka Mountains and the Badlands. And for the past 18 years, the owner of Meeteetse Chocolatier Tim Kellogg has been making chocolates for the townspeople and tourists. Wyoming Public Radio's Kamila Kudelska visited the chocolatier to see how they fared during the pandemic.

Meeteetse Choclatier
Kamila Kudelska
/
Wyoming Public Radio

Tim Kellogg: With Valentine's Day coming, there's a lot of truffles, a lot of the Belgian hearts, the champagne hearts, things like that.

So these are my chocolate heart molds. So I'm just going to have the temper chocolate, I'm gonna pour it into the molds, and start the process of making all these little Valentine hearts. So what I'm doing is just kind of pouring the liquid chocolates into the mold and filling each of the cavities. It's kind of sloppy, which is part of the fun, and then I do a quick scrape of the excess back into…kinda aggression therapy. Gotta pop out all the little bubbles pockets

In the days when tour buses would show up. They were like, 'Oh, we were driving around town, we got lost.' And I'm like, 'How do you get lost in Meeteetse? We're small.' 'We were looking for the factory and the smokestacks.' And like, 'No it's, you know, me, a slab of marble, a tempering machine, and my grandmother's kitchen aid. There's no factory, no smokestacks.' But that's part of the charm of the business.

Meeteetse Choclatier

The very beginning of the pandemic two years ago was pretty harsh. When we went into lockdown, I wasn't able to have anyone in my store. And part of the joy of the store is eating with your eyes before you eat with your mouth and getting to see everything. Luckily, I have two huge bay windows. So I ended up kind of turning the store into almost like a French or European style chocolate shop where everything went into the windows. And then I had a menu and people could order either online or at the door and then I put it together and put it out.

The first lockdown came right before Easter, which was kind of a crushing blow to us because when everyone was off work for several weeks, luxury chocolate and chocolate rabbits and all those fun Easter things were not high on people's list. So I switched more to a bakery mode and so I would fill the window with pain au chocolat and croissants and all sorts of pastries and baguettes and loaves of bread and things like that. And thankfully people in the community were coming by and treating themselves to a pastry once or twice a week. And that really kind of kept the business going. But the chocolate sales really fell off. I think I only sold one or two rabbits that year.

It was not a profitable time. But I had enough to keep the lights on and the ovens running.

Chocolate hearts
Kamila Kudelska
/
Wyoming Public Radio

The first summer [after lockdown] was busy. It wasn't as busy as this previous summer of 2021. We got walloped right off the bat and it never stopped. Like late April, May, June, July, August. It was crazy. I was making chocolates as fast as possible. I was working 18 to 20-22 hour days, every single day. And there were some days by one o'clock, everything was gone, there was nothing left in the store. So I had to start, I had to restrict my hours. We started closing an hour to two early depending on the day because I was just standing here with absolutely nothing and I felt bad because customers drive a long way to get here. And it got to the point where some days there would be a line of people, which, I'm so terrible at getting open right at 10 am because I'm still stocking the cases and pulling stuff out of the oven. And it's usually chaos here between, like, eight and 10 am. And some days I'd look out and there'd be three or four or 10 people outside waiting for the door to open.

There's a lot of aspects that we tweaked to get the store through the pandemic that I've stuck with, because it works really well, like having the pastries in the window every weekend. It's nice to see people out front looking at them. And while I'm loading the cases, they can see everything that is made and coming in and having the order ready to go. It's just kind of grab and go and it's a lot more convenient for them. and it's easier for me because I know exactly what I have to make.

In addition to reporting daily on the happenings in Northwest Wyoming, Kamila is also the producer of the Kids Ask WhY Podcast and the History Unloaded Podcast.Kamila has worked for public radio stations in California, New York, France and Poland. Originally from New York City, she loves exploring new places. Kamila received her master in journalism from Columbia University. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring the surrounding areas with her two pups and husband.
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