A Freeport-based candy maker who started making chocolate in the basement of his home more than three decades ago gained national recognition Thursday after his small business was chosen to receive a highly competitive $100,000 grant from a major bank.

Wilbur’s of Maine Chocolate Confections was one of just 20 national winners of a $100,000 grant, which the Freeport company intends to use to set up a demonstration kitchen and open a chocolate-making school.

More than 30,000 small businesses from across the country applied for one of the Chase Bank’s Mission Main Street Grants, a program launched in 2012 to support small businesses, according to a release from Chase.

Tom Wilbur, who has run the Freeport chocolate shop with his wife, Catherine, for 32 years, said he thought it was a longshot to win.

“I didn’t think we could win,” Wilbur admitted Thursday. “I felt like I had the same chance of winning the grant as I did of getting hit by lightning.”

Wilbur said he intends to use the $100,000 to build a demonstration kitchen and open a chocolate-making school, helping to make his chocolate-making factory at 174 Lower Main St. a destination in Freeport.

“Everything that we’ve done has been piece by piece,” Catherine Wilbur said in a video posted on Mission Main Street’s website. “This is going to allow us to do everything within a year or two and we’re just so excited that we can do that.”

Wilbur’s now offers more than 200 product lines, from gourmet malt balls and pebble candy to chocolate-covered blueberries and chocolate party platters.

In 1985, Wilbur’s began selling products wholesale to L.L. Bean, also located in Freeport. Wilbur’s now sells wholesale to Whole Foods’ markets in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Maine. Wilbur’s storefronts are located at 13 Bow St. in Freeport and at 143 Maine St. in Brunswick.

Wilbur said he will use the grant to teach people how to make chocolate. He envisions inviting people and candy-makers from Maine and across the country to Freeport to attended a two- or three-day chocolate-making class. He said he is not concerned about giving away some of his recipes.

“Candy makers like to share,” Wilbur said.

People will also be invited to walk into Wilbur’s new demonstration kitchen where they can observe, for example, how caramel is made.

In the next year, Wilbur, who is 70-years-old, and his wife, plan to become less active in the day-to-day operations of the business. They plan to let their son, Andy Wilbur, take over management of the company while they ease into their retirement years.

“We are in the process of transitioning. It is time for my wife and I to back off a bit,” Wilbur said. “We still plan to come into work and have them tell us what needs to be done.”

Chase Bank conducts its Mission Main Street Grants program by soliciting nominations, screening them and then opening the applications to a public vote.

Wilbur’s was the only business in New England to win a grant this year.

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