Chewters Chocolates Lets the Chips Fly

B.C. chocolate-maker Chewters gambles on ?cracking the Las Vegas market.

Wade Pugh, Chewters Chocolates | BCBusiness
Chocolatier Wade Pugh is constantly inventing novelty items for his Vegas clients, including souvenir betting chips.

B.C. chocolate-maker Chewters gambles on 
cracking the Las Vegas market.

Locals may hit Las Vegas to escape B.C., but there’s a good bet they’ll be savouring a chunk of home during their stay. Every year, more than six million chocolates – from the logo-bearing pieces gracing hotel pillows to the faux gaming chips in the mini bar – are created annually by Richmond-based Chewters Chocolates Inc. and shipped to multiple mega-hotels throughout Sin City. After winning a contract with Bellagio 12 years ago, the company now has a significant roster of hotel clients for myriad products, including Caesars Palace, Wynn, Encore, the Signature at MGM Grand, Stratosphere, Aria and the Luxor.

“Once you get the big guy in the street, the others follow suit,” explains owner Wade Pugh, who named the company for its original product: the one-ounce chocolate shooter it created in 1984 and continues to make today. “But it was certainly a gamble for Bellagio.”

Pugh’s team first knocked on the hotel giant’s door with a sample of chocolates. “They said, ‘Very nice, but who are you?’” Pugh recalls with a laugh, adding that he soon discovered that few buyers like to use suppliers that have not been tried and tested first in the Vegas market. Around six months later, however, he received a call from Bellagio, saying they had enjoyed the Chocoa chocolate (imported from Belgium) and would like to try out the Canadian manufacturer.

“They made it clear not to let them down. I was so elated, but I knew we had to really step up our game,” Pugh says of the monthly orders of 250,000 chocolates and 24,000 gift boxes. At first he outsourced some of the chocolate-making to cope with the volume, before installing million-dollar equipment, including a chocolate temperer from Germany, a molding line from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and a wrapping centre from Italy that can now churn out 400 chocolates a minute. 

His team of 14 (swelling to 20 when extra orders come in) also produces up to three million chocolates and truffles in a smorgasbord of flavours for the local and national market, including the Fairmont, Hyatt and River Rock hotels, as well as candies for such companies as the Hilton, Marriott, Boathouse, Hy’s and Gotham steakhouses. 

The recession in the U.S. has hit some orders: Chewters’ yearly contract for 1.5 million chocolate gold coins imprinted with a bust of Julius Caesar for Caesars Palace is half what it was three years ago. “We are normally one of the things they give away, so if they are slowing down we have to be inventive,” explains Pugh. One such innovation – which he says offers a high profit margin for hotels – is placing tubes of chocolate gaming chips in the mini-bars, which people buy to eat or to take away as a souvenir.

“We are constantly evolving,” says Patricia Macdonald, who handles sales and business development for the privately owned Chewters. Part of that diversification includes opening a retail space next to its factory, bringing a bit of Las Vegas, it would seem, to B.C.