Local Chocolatier Creates Enticing Treats through Convictions0
From left, Confections with Convictions owner Dale Anderson is pictured with employees Quintoria Baker and Quinton Mitchell.
Dale Anderson has a way with taking worn or overlooked ingredients and creating new conceptions and opportunities. His gift specifically applies to dilapidated buildings, young people with felony records, and unpredictable chocolate recipes as a carpenter, counselor, and chocolatier by trade.
"My profession depends on the day," Anderson said. "I am on-call five days a week offering mediation and conflict resolution services for employees at Western Michigan University. Mondays, I counsel youth in the Kalamazoo Juvenile Drug Treatment Court, Tuesday through Saturday I am a chocolatier at Confections with Convictions, and I still do a bit of carpentry work around the edges."
"Meandering" is an apt one-word description for the Kalamazoo native's career path.
"After dropping out of college after a couple of semesters, I worked construction, sold fruit off a pick-up truck in California, and came back to Kalamazoo and started my own remodeling and construction business," he said. "After 30 years or so, my brother encouraged me to go back to school, and I studied computers, international relations, and eventually counseling."
After receiving his master's degree in counseling in 1996, Anderson worked at various counseling agencies, ran a crisis line in Battle Creek, and became the first coordinator of a mediation service housed at Gryphon Place.
"All along this path, I had an interest in helping folks work out their problems," Anderson said. "I started Confections with Convictions after working for several years counseling youth in the Juvenile Drug Treatment Court and seeing that many young people had a very difficult time getting employment due to their legal records.
"Changing their thinking was not necessarily changing their opportunities. I wanted to provide a supportive work environment that gave young people an opportunity to develop skills, confidence, some financial security, and a foundation on which to build a productive life.
"I've had some amazing young people working here. Almost all have taken the craft very seriously and taken a great deal of pride in producing beautiful chocolates. The supportive atmosphere in the shop, and a steady paycheck have provided a foundation for most of the youth on which to build a stable life. Several employees have gone on to other employment. I've had employees tell me that had they not been working at the shop, they might have died along with friends in some of the recent gun violence," Anderson said.
The convictions portion of his shop's name has a double meaning. In addition to hiring young people who have criminal convictions that might otherwise bar them from gainful employment, the name also refers to Anderson's commitment to using fair trade and organic ingredients.
With truffle flavors like dark chocolate with nutmeg, cinnamon, and chipotle pepper; milk chocolate pumpkin spice; and white chocolate with poppy seeds, walnuts, and vanilla; Anderson could have turned huge a profit in a larger city or tourist destination, but he chose to stay true to his roots.
"I love Kalamazoo and have lived here most of my life, and so am connected to the community," he said. "I was aware of the limited employment opportunities for some of our youth and believed that such a venture could be a benefit to the community.
"Kalamazoo, in turn, has supported the shop," Anderson said.
"Our shop wouldn't be successful were it not for the incredible love and support we've received from the community," he said.
In the midst of remodeling his home and living with his mother, Anderson is gearing up for the holiday rush.
"The winter holiday season is the busiest time in the chocolate business. So, we have taken on new staff, are training and preparing to meet the holiday demand, developing new delicacies, and looking forward to spreading the joy," Anderson said.
Although business is going well, the shop is largely a labor of love, labor that extends to Anderson's mother as well.
"My mom volunteers with me at the shop every day," he said.
When asked which of his creations his favorite was, Anderson gave a quick, if not parental, response.
"That's like asking which of your children you like best! I love them all," he said. "Lately, I've especially enjoyed the organic Turkish fig, fresh-grated ginger, orange and cinnamon caramel with balsamic-glazed, spiced walnuts."
Confections with Convictions is located at 116 W. Crosstown Parkway, Kalamazoo. For more information, visit confectionswithconvictions.com or visit them on facebook.