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TOPEKA — Hazel Hill Chocolate embodies a three-generation family tradition that today applies freestyling innovation to craft custom and award-winning handmade chocolate and confections in the heart of Kansas.
“I tweak everything,” said Terry Xidis, who owns Hazel Hill Chocolate with her husband, Nick, and opened the business in 2006. The family takes pride in the experimentation that comes with combining flavors and techniques to create the unexpected — or match customers’ wild expectations for unusual orders.
They’re chocolatiers, creating clusters and truffles. They’re confectioners, making fudge and handmade caramel all made from sugar. And they’ve become known for specialized chocolate bars crafted from exotic cacao, holiday-themed caramel apples, and gift baskets and boxes.
The Topeka-based shop, named after Terry’s grandmother, is a true family business, they said, noting three of their six children have worked there regularly through the years.
Hazel Hill Chocolate even claimed the gold medal at the prestigious Northwest Chocolate Festival in 2021 with chocolate caramel concocted by Terry and the couple’s son, Daniel.
“We now have 10 international level awards,” said Nick, “But I’m the most proud of this one.”
‘We’ll try it’
Embracing creative challenges has been core to the business, Terry added.
“People send me pictures; I think it was a Pinterest post someone sent me of turkey and Thanksgiving themed caramel apples and just said, ‘I really hope you could do this,’” said Terry, offering an example of a sweets-lover’s inquiry. “We looked at it and said, ‘If we think we can make a decent effort at this, we’ll try it.’”
The pair also shared a story of a customer who requested a custom engagement treat — a marriage proposal hidden within a mock fortune cookie. Other memorable orders included crafting spidery monsters from the “Incredibles” movie and bringing to life a vision of a massive chocolate dinosaur.
“The dinosaur was like 10 feet tall,” said Terry. “I was pretty pleased with my dinosaur nest, and then I also carved the Easter Island statue. Everything is made out of chocolate.”
The piece was created to support the Topeka Chamber’s “Dino Days” four-month-long downtown celebration over the summer, and raised $800 when it was sold in a raffle.
“We even made little dino eggs to sell individually too; with fudge and gummies inside that the kids could find,” Terry added.
Nick and Terry often donate the proceeds of their raffles to local nonprofits like SENT Topeka, an organization dedicated to rebuilding under-resourced communities in the capital city.
“They build and revamp houses, in order to help develop the community; bringing up the neighborhood,” said Terry.
The pandemic revealed new reasons for the business owners to give back, they said, reflecting on the support received by Hazel Hill Chocolate.
“During COVID, when we were struggling, we got people coming in, who said, ‘Look, I want to buy 200 dollars worth of gift cards.’ ‘Why do you need that much?’ ‘I don’t need it, I just want to make sure you’re here, and I want to make sure you guys are OK,’” said Nick. “I don’t think that happens everywhere.”
“The local people here care about and take care of their local businesses and their neighbors,” he continued. “I can’t say enough about how we are supported here by a really, really good community.”
Family first (and forever)
Candy-making runs in the family, with Nick’s grandfather and great-grandfather emigrating from Greece to learn the trade in New York. His grandfather later opened a candy store in 1929 in Clinton, Iowa.
“A lot of what we do here comes from that family tradition,” Nick said. “That’s why you see people making stuff by hand in small batches. It’s not identical, but very similar to what his shop was like and how stuff was done.”
The shop is also rooted in the love between Nick and Terry, they said. The logo — an “H” with two pillars and an infinity sign — represents their union through “an embrace that lasts forever,” said Nick.
Nick and Terry met at a six-month long training course in Oklahoma City, while working for the Federal Aviation Administration.
“When I went up to hand in my assignments, I would untie (Terry’s) shoelaces,” said Nick, with a laugh. “That’s really a romantic gesture.”
When Nick returned home to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and when Terry went home to Seattle, Washington, the couple courted long distance for two years, before they eventually married.
“She’s the most important thing in my whole life,” said Nick.
Opening Hazel Hill Chocolate was initially Nick’s idea, while Terry was a stay-at-home mom.
“He came home one night from work and we had the opportunity to buy all this equipment,” Terry recalled. “He said, ‘I kind of want to do it because my family had a chocolate store.’ I secretly think that he just wanted me to go back to work.”
Reflecting on their partnership, Nick added, “The fact that I get to work with her every day is an unbelievable blessing. You can tell we’re different personalities, but we fit together.”
This series is possible thanks to Go Topeka.
Go Topeka seeks economic success for all companies and citizens across Shawnee County through implementation of an aggressive economic development strategy that capitalizes on the unique strengths of the community.