Norman Love chocolates
(Photography by Brian Tietz)

Personalities


Norman Love and the Chocolate Factory

For 20 years, the pastry chef has produced the area’s greatest chocolates. Now, he takes his gourmet delights to another level.

Norman Love is likely a little stressed. It’s weeks before Valentine’s Day—one of the busiest holidays of the year for a chocolatier. But it’s also one of his favorite days—after all, this is a man whose last name is Love. The large windows of one of his eponymous Fort Myers storefronts, Norman Love Confections, provide views of his bustling salon. You can’t miss the swift movements of the 62-year-old, outfitted in a spotless chef’s coat and apron. He’s constantly in motion—removing chocolate from molds, loading peanut butter and jelly and Key lime truffles onto a conveyor belt, scaling ingredients for a strawberry ganache, airbrushing color onto tiny works of edible art, and stacking endless piles of boxes.

After more than 40 years in the dessert business—including 13 years as a global executive pastry chef at The Ritz-Carlton and more than 20 years as his own boss—this holiday rush of molding, stocking and stamping isn’t reflective of Love’s everyday schedule. “It’s quite rewarding to sit on the other side, if you will, and not touch, but see the results of a lot of crazy quality chefs that care,” Love says. The bulk of his days are spent behind a desk, phoning vendors, answering hundreds of emails, coordinating supply chains and designing packaging as he takes the brand to the next level.

Norman Love chocolates in black and white photography

Norman Love
Since opening in Fort Myers in 2001, Love and his wife, Mary, have grown the confectionery to include five storefronts throughout the region.

It’s difficult for Love to slow down, even though he’s been working so hard since he and his wife, Mary, opened the first Norman Love Confections location in Fort Myers in 2001. He’s spent the last two decades learning how to make, move and ship his products—sourcing chocolate from places like San Francisco, France, Switzerland and Ecuador. His single-origin dark chocolate series, BLACK, highlights the individual flavors of chocolates from premium cacao-growing regions in El Salvador, Ghana, Tanzania, Peru and Vietnam.

Like his chocolates sourced from around the world, Love’s reach is also increasingly far-reaching. His company has grown to 135 employees and five chocolate salons since 2001. In the past, the brand produced millions of pieces of chocolate a year; during the pandemic, Love saw his already-growing e-commerce platform explode, shipping boxes of chocolates to die-hard fans around the country. His team had difficulty meeting demand.

That won’t be a problem again anytime soon. Last year, Love expanded his warehouse space and added a fleet of state-of-the-art machines to his chocolate factory. The new equipment can produce around 15,000 pieces of chocolate in an hour, compared to the previous rate of 1,875 pieces an hour, without compromising flavor or quality. “So, it’s the time to push the throttle a little bit, and let’s see what we can do,” Love says.

With the increase in production come significant plans to scale Norman Love Confections. Along with continuing to grow the company’s e-commerce side, Love plans to expand his five brick-and-mortar salons to 20 across the state, including locations in Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville, in the next five years. And he’s well on his way, having debuted a location in Sarasota­—his first outside of Lee and Collier Counties—in late 2020, complete with plans for a tasting experience, where pastry chefs craft multicourse dessert menus. Love says the experience is like going to a chocolate theater—a longtime dream of his to create.

New state-of-the-art machinery at Norman Love Confections in Fort Myers can increase chocolate production by 700%.

Recently, he hired a corporate sales director, who played a hand in growing the Maui Jim brand, to further Norman Love Confections’ presence. He’s also working on a redesign of the packaging with a firm in Chicago—though the signature lime-green boxes, which are about as recognizable in Southwest Florida as Tiffany & Co.’s aqua-colored branding, are here to stay.

Love knows that the more he leans into the business side of things, the further he gets from the creative aspects that initially drew him in: the joys of being in the kitchen, the aromas of chocolate and buttery pastry, and the instant satisfaction of a customer enjoying a dessert he created. But he takes pride in hiring trusted people that can deliver on his branded expertise.

Artistic detail on the design of Norman Love chocolates
Artistic details, such as brushstrokes, are added by hand.

He’s not entirely hands-off, of course. Love still samples products and coordinates daily with chocolate production manager Dan Forgey. “I’m so proud,” he says. “It’s such an incredible feeling to see that your team cares as much as you do.”