Henry and Esther Whetstone are Florida natives and lifelong residents of northeast Florida. Henry had just returned from a stint as an Air Controller in the U.S. Air Force and a tour in Japan and was working with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers in Jacksonville. Esther, who flew to Japan to marry Henry, returned to St. Augustine as a first grade teacher. Together, they longed to own and operate their own business.
They studied the local retail market and quickly discovered an unsatisfied demand from the many tourists and the local residents for superior quality ice cream. Operating from their kitchen each night, Henry and Esther first opened their small ice cream store on St. George Street in the historic business district of St. Augustine in 1966. The parlor quickly developed a reputation for serving the best ice cream in town. Today, this original store is known as Tedi’s Olde Tyme Ice Cream and remains a part of the Whetstone Chocolate experience.
Chocolate was their Dream
Henry and Esther entered the chocolate market when they created a home-made fudge recipe, again in the family’s small kitchen. Late into the night, they would prepare the highly sought after delicacy at home for the next day’s customers. Armed with little more than a few cookbooks and a strong entrepreneurial spirit, they set out to learn all they could about chocolate. While Esther was creating and testing different recipes of fudge, Henry was busy hand-carving molds for the introduction of their solid chocolate gators and dolphins.
The small kitchen was the original Whetstone Chocolate factory and the production crew was two hard working people. Their long hours and deep commitment to quality was rewarded by increasing demand for their fudge. Inspired from a single fudge recipe, Henry and Esther educated themselves in the intricacies of chocolate and began hand-dipping chocolates such as caramel, toffee, almonds, pecans and cherries. By word of mouth, the Whetstone Chocolate reputation grew rapidly and the demand for their chocolates increased even more so. By 1967, they were selling 13 different flavors of fudge along with an increasing assortment of hand-dipped chocolates.
Soon, expanding sales forced Henry and Esther to move the kitchen operation to a larger facility. In the 1970s, they opened a chocolate production factory at 51 Cordova Street in St. Augustine. Their reputation spread beyond the confines of regional sales and Whetstone Chocolates opened more retail stores and began wholesaling their superior chocolates.
Virginia Joins the Business
When Virginia Whetstone, the daughter of Henry and Esther, graduated from Vanderbilt University she entered the family business. With her discriminating taste for chocolate flavors, Virginia soon became President of Whetstone Chocolates. Although she focused heavily on administration, personnel, retail stores, purchasing and quality control, her real love was formula development, in which she excelled.
“Like wine grapes, cocoa beans vary from year to year according to climatic conditions and their location.” Virginia says. “Because our chocolate is only as good as the raw materials used to make it, I select the best chocolate from more than 200 grades. I choose chocolate based on qualities such as percentage of cocoa butter, granule fineness, flavor, color and conch time. I have personally visited cocoa plantations around the world to ensure I acquire the best.”
In 1984, a new 10,000 square foot factory was constructed on Highway 312, south of St. Augustine. More wholesale products were added and contract work expanded as Nestle’s, Hershey and M&M Mars became significant wholesale customers of Whetstone Chocolates. Although it remained small by comparison, Whetstone Chocolates became highly sought after among the giants of chocolate for its production quality, creativity and innovation.
In the early 1990’s the Whetstone Chocolate factory became a major attraction as tourists and local residents alike sought to learn more about the unique Whetstone delicacies. Daily tours, conducted at first by Virginia and later by her staff, became commonplace for tourists as well as many local families.