Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Domenico Ghirardelli - Chocolateer (1817-1894)

Domenico "Domingo" Ghirardelli was born in Rapallo, Italy (near Genoa) in 1817 to an exotic foods importer and his young wife. At a young age, Domenico was introduced to the chocolate and confectionary trade as he apprenticed for a local candy maker. At the age of 20, Ghirardelli married his first wife, and set sail to Uruguay to partake in the South American chocolate trade.

In 1838, attracted by opportunities in Lima, Ghirardelli sails around Cape Horn to Peru. Fatefully, Ghirardelli opens a confectionery store next to a cabinet shop owned by an American, James Lick. Enticed by the stories prosperity in North America, Lick leaves for San Francisco in 1847, taking 600 pounds of neighbor Ghirardelli’s Chocolate with him. Meanwhile, Ghirardelli continues to operate his store in Peru, soon replacing his Italian name with its Spanish equivalent, Domingo.

Following the death of his first wife in 1848 and his remarriage to Carmen Alvarado, Ghirardelli learns of the gold strike at Sutter’s Mill and sails unaccompanied to California. After prospecting in the Jamestown-Sonora area, Ghirardelli once again becomes a merchant, opening a general store in Stockton, California, offering supplies and confections to fellow miners. Located in a tent, it’s one of the first shops in the area.

Several months later, Ghirardelli opens a second store on the corner of Broadway and Battery in San Francisco, which becomes his first establishment in the city. On May 3, 1851 the fifth of a series of great San Francisco fires destroy some 1,500 buildings,including Ghirardelli’s Battery Street location. Three days later a runaway fire levels half of Stockton. In the span of a few days, Ghirardelli’s businesses are burned out of existence. He quickly consolidates his salvaged assets and opens the Cairo Coffee House on San Francisco’s Commercial Street in September of the same year.

After the Cairo Coffee House proves unsuccessful, Ghirardelli stays in San Francisco and forms a new confectionery company called Ghirardely & Girard on the corner of Kearny and Washington streets. This is the establishment of what is to become the modern day Ghirardelli Chocolate Company and over 150 years of traditional chocolate manufacturing.

Over the next few years the company relocated to a number of locations around San Francisco. By 1869 the Ghirardellis moved to Oakland.

In 1879, Ghiradelli became incensed with the Catholic Church when a priest refused to administer last rites to his granddaughter Aurelia. One story says that the priest refused to come to the house because it was raining, while another version says that the priest didn't think that Ghiradelli gave enough money to the Church. Carmen Ghiradelli was devastated and Domenico forbade any member of his family from ever entering a Catholic Church again.

Ghiradelli got his revenge by building the mausoleum pictured above with a giant Masonic emblem above the door. In 1890, Domenico and his sons snuck into St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery and removed the bodies of four family members and moved them to Mountain View.

In 1892, Domenico Ghirardelli retires as head of the company, turning the management over to his three sons. Needing additional space, the company purchases the Pioneer Woolen Mill building, and manufacturing moves to that location, on San Francisco’s northern waterfront. This is the present location of Ghirardelli Square.

On a trip to his home in Rapallo, Italy in 1894, Domingo Ghirardelli dies at the age of 77 on January 17.

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