Bixby & Co., the Rockland-based chocolate maker, is set to open an artisan chocolate cafe and store this spring on Main Street in downtown Waterville, but the company is looking to bring more than sweets to town.

It also seeks to provide a vision, a commitment to Maine entrepreneurship and a desire to grow in a thriving setting.

The cafe will be located in the Colby College-owned Hains Building at 173 Main St., which was built in 1903 and once housed Waterville Savings Bank.

Kate McAleer, 32, founder and CEO of Bixby & Co., one of the 12 companies in Maine certified to be owned by women, attributed her business “vision” to a personal experience.

“When I was a college freshman, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer,” McAleer said in an interview Monday at the future Bixby & Co. cafe. “That made me look into the food system and what was going into it. That turned me on to organic foods.

“I also thought about how I could take my many interests and apply them somewhere, and chocolate was the medium where all of my interests could come together. I noticed a void of organic chocolate in the industry so my idea was to bring natural and clean chocolate to the market.”

Bonbons and other fine chocolates and candies will be sold at the Bixby & Co. store that is expected to open this spring at 173 Main St. in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson

McAleer founded Bixby & Co. in December 2011 with the mission of creating organic and natural chocolate with the least amount of environmental impact.

The first and only “bean to bar” chocolate company in Maine, Bixby & Co. is certified organic by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

“Bixb& Co. Chocolate was born from a commitment to fairnesssustainabilityminimal environmental impact and community enhancement,” according to the company’s website.

Bixby buys its beans from farmers in Belize, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Haiti, and processes them into chocolate products at its facility in Rockland.

“There is no chocolate grown in the state of Maine,” McAleer said. “Trust me. I’ve tried. Bixby is all conscience driven so we have a close relationship from the farmers that we buy from. I try to go every two years to personally visit each of our farmers, and that’s been a really meaningful experience for me.”

McAleer said she set her sights on Waterville after meeting with Garvan Donegan, director of planning and economic development at the Central Maine Growth Council.

“I’m tied into a lot of entrepreneurship here in Maine, and I was introduced to Waterville and Colby College by Garvan,” McAleer said. “I learned there’s so much going on here in Waterville.”

Brian Clark, Colby’s vice president of planning who oversees all of the college’s downtown development projects, said he was immediately impressed with the owners of Bixby & Co. when he met them in August.

“We were impressed with their vision, the quality of their products and just how they’ve managed to grow,” Clark said. “It’s a company based in Maine that has national distribution, and they’ve been able to develop it from the ground up.”

The sun sets Monday on the future site of Bixby & Co. at 173 Main St. in Waterville, next to Portland Pie Co. The new store will sell chocolates and other fine candies. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson

Bringing Bixby to Waterville will add to the increasingly diverse food scene in the downtown area, giving people more reasons to come downtown, Clark said.

“There’s also so many opportunities to partner with Colby classes, and they have a huge educational component in their shop because of everything they do with organic farming and sustainability,” Clark said.

The collaboration between Bixby & Co. and Colby College continues the revitalization of Waterville’s downtown, according to college officials. It is another of the initiatives aimed at revitalizing Main Street, including the Alfond Commons, a residence hall that houses about 200 students; the Lockwood Hotel, a 53-room boutique inn scheduled to open in fall 2020; and the Paul J. Schupf Art Center, which is in the planning stages.

In 2017, Colby renovated the building at 173 Main St. It is now home to Portland Pie Co., the technology firm CGI Group and some Colby offices. With the opening of Bixby & Co., the building will be fully occupied for the first time in more than 25 years.

 

The operation will include seating areas for customers to enjoy Bixby’s chocolate confections, including drinking chocolate, pastries, espresso, gelato, a display of fine candies inside the building’s original bank vault and an interactive display that showcases how Bixby sources its chocolate and creates its products.

Bixby products will be available for purchase along with frozen desserts from Gelato Fiasco of Brunswick and Portland. Coffee By Design of Portland will be the designated roaster, highlighting the importance of other Maine-based businesses to Bixby’s operations, McAleer said.

Clark said Bixby & Co. is a perfect fit with what Colby officials, Waterville leaders and others in the community envisioned five years ago when they first set their sights on revitalizing Main Street.

“We imagined what kind of retailers could thrive on Main Street, and to me, Bixby & Co. is a company that can do that,” Clark said. “They’re a great Maine-based, woman-owned company that fit right into those conversations we were having five years ago.”

McAleer said the Bixby & Co. cafe is aimed at bringing a special experience to many customers.

“This will be a place where people can have their chocolate dreams come true,” McAleer said. “Just because it’s organic doesn’t mean it’s not understandable or approachable. It’s an everyday luxury and we have products at all price points for all people.”

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