In terms of brand recognition, I mostly equate Kohler with my toilet, where its name is stamped on the back of the bowl. Maybe for you, the name brings up visions of sinks or shower heads. But what few people realize is that the same company that lets you “shop by hole mounting” is also selling something you can fill up on before you flush.
Since 2007, Kohler has been making and selling Kohler Original Recipe Chocolates. And it’s not a gimmick, a la KFC’s escape pods or Hidden Valley Ranch’s fairly extensive clothing line. Kohler is serious about its chocolates. It doesn’t have any sort of national marketing campaign to hype the confections; in fact, it’s pretty hyper-local at this point.
“Our focus has been to continue to build word of mouth in these areas where our products can be seen, tasted, and purchased,” a spokesperson told The Takeout. An edible showroom, if you will.
While you can order the chocolates online, there are also two storefronts: one in Kohler, Wisconsin, and another in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. I made a trip to the latter and tried (failed) to not mention plumbing within the first 30 seconds of walking in.
It’s actually less of a stretch than you’d think. In its namesake village of Kohler, the company owns and operates what it calls Destination Kohler, which includes the five-star American Club Resort, Kohler Waters Spa, and other businesses positioned in the wellness sphere. It even hosts an annual Food & Wine fest. The idea for the chocolates originated in the hotel kitchen.
In this way, you can think of it more as a restaurant that offers its products for sale outside the dining room, like a barbecue joint hawking its hot sauces. The Kohler resort was so proud of its chocolate (which they say Executive Chairman Herb Kohler was deeply involved in testing) that the business decided to build out its offerings and set up dedicated chocolate shops.
It’s also an obvious little add-on when it comes to a luxury experience at a spa or resort. The manager of the Lincoln Park shop, which is attached to the Chicago location of the Kohler Waters Spa, said she provides samples to spa guests, and brides often gift boxes of the chocolates to their parties while (I assume) sitting in a Heated BubbleMassage Kohler tub.
I sampled a few different chocolates and, overall, they’re not bad! They score very high for visual effect: The shells are shiny and well-sealed at the bottom, while the colors (when used) are vibrant. Some of the candies have drizzled, speckled, or brushed-on flourishes that give them a very pretty handmade quality.
The texture is also pretty fantastic: the ganache centers were creamy and never grainy. But I will note that these chocolates are very rich, and I sometimes would have preferred a smaller bite. I actually pulled a Mr. Pitt and sliced some of the chocolates into pieces.
A few I sampled:
- Original Buttery Terrapin: This was the chocolate that launched the whole venture. It’s a spin on a turtle, but I suppose calling it a terrapin elevates it (see also: calling a toilet a throne). I definitely preferred this one in slices, but it’s rich, creamy, and definitely the strongest of the bunch I tasted.
- Dark chocolate heart: These heart-shaped dark chocolate shells are painted red and filled with a raspberry ganache with hints of champagne and cognac. Not entirely sure I picked up on those flavor subtleties, but the overall texture was really pleasant.
- Rare Facets: This collection has jewel-toned, gem-shaped chocolates with fruity ganache centers. I tried the cranberry-raspberry (good!), blueberry (not bad!), and mandarin ginger (not great!).
- A limited-edition red, white, and blue chocolate: This half-sphere had a white chocolate shell speckled with red and blue, filled with a birthday cake ganache. I’m not a big fan of “birthday cake” as a flavor, but this didn’t have the usual super-sugary boxed cake mix flavor that brings to mind the cries of children at parties. Definitely better than I expected.
The Chicago location of Kohler’s chocolate shop is connected to its Waters Spa but is accessible to customers from the street. It’s a tidy little storefront that looks less like an independent chocolatier and more like the candy counter at a fancy department store. You can grab a box of chocolates displayed on the shelves, or you can mix and match from the selection under glass.
“We’re proud that the Kohler name has become synonymous with quality products,” the spokesperson told me, “whether they are found in the bathroom or the kitchen pantry.”
The store manager echoed this when I asked what people thought on their first visit.
“They’re pleasantly surprised,” she said. “The name has been around for a long time. They know it’s a quality brand.”
Moments later, a customer wandered in from the spa and glanced around a bit. She pointed at a sign advertising the Rare Facet collection of chocolates and, absolutely vibrating with the quip she was about to deliver, asked, “Did they forget the letter ‘U’?”
RARE FAUCET! Finally, a plumbing joke. That’s because the name Kohler means plumbing. Yes, customers may associate the name with “quality,” but it’s specifically quality plumbing. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
I’d love for Kohler to at least wink at this a little more. How about a tongue-in-cheek collection of tiny chocolate sinks? Or a special tasting held at a hardware store? I love the idea of gifting these to all the plumbers in my life (there are more than you would expect) or to anyone I know renovating their home.
But at the end of the day, I can appreciate a company that doesn’t want to be boxed into a corner. After all, why can’t your toilet company also sell chocolate?