They're not sure when the chocolate-making trade went to the dark side and got banned from downtown Annapolis, but a national chain and a city official are teaming up to bring it back.
Kilwin's Chocolates and Ice Cream plans to open a store this month at 128 Main St. selling truffles, fudge, pecan brittle and other treats. The growing franchise operation is known for making high-end chocolate on the premises, an option that is unavailable in Annapolis.
Businesses in Annapolis are free to sell candy made elsewhere, but zoning regulations prohibit professional baking and candy-making in the conservation district. Legislation proposed by Alderman Richard E. Israel, a Ward 1 Democrat, and approved by the city planning commission Thursday would lift the ban.
"I haven't heard of too many people who are against chocolate or chocolate-eating," said Israel, who denies having a sweet tooth.
Neither Israel nor planning commission officials could track down the history behind the candy-making prohibition, but Mike Miron, the economic development coordinator, guessed that it dates back 15 to 20 years.
That's about when a bakery made and proudly displayed anatomically correct gingerbread men in its Main Street window. Miron speculated that the city passed the zoning restriction in reaction to the X-rated cookies.
Israel's legislation addresses only candy-making. Baking will remain off-limits except at Uncle Bob's Fudge Kitchen at 112 Main St., which has a special exception to make fudge and baked goods.
Don and Robin McCarty have owned Kilwin's since 1995, expanding it from fewer than 30 locations to more than 60. They have shops in St. Augustine, Fla., Gettysburg, Pa., Charleston, S.C., and eight other states.
"I've never had a situation before where they've outlawed candy-making," Don McCarty said from his Michigan headquarters Friday. "But we're in several historical districts ... and they always have unique regulations. We just try to work through them."
Kilwin's began in 1947 as a mom-and-pop bakery and candy operation in Michigan and expanded to in-house fudge-making within a year.
Annapolis officials say the resulting chain is more upscale than some of its predecessors. Its Web site features gold-ribboned packaging and liqueur-flavored truffles. So when McCarty first approached city officials about changing the ordinance, Israel was ready to take the idea to residents. Their main concern, he said, was odor.
"We talked it over with the owners, and they've pretty much convinced us," Israel said. "The odors from making chocolate are not what you'd call bad."
Despite the zoning situation, residents seem open to the idea of another place to stock up on sweets. Competition includes Uncle Bob's, the Annapolis Ice Cream Co., Storm Bros. Ice Cream Factory and Ben & Jerry's.
Doug Smith, president of the Ward One Residents Association, said Kilwin's is banking on the notion that people can never have too much chocolate.
"They wouldn't be making this investment if they thought it wouldn't be wise for them," he said, adding that the company supplied "chocolate-covered this-and-thats" for a recent Ward One picnic. His favorites were the caramel-filled chocolates, which list for $20 a pound on Kilwin's Web site.
McCarty seems to bring chocolates as a peace offering everywhere he goes. Miron said he gave out what must have been 20 pounds of it at an earlier meeting with residents. That day, he said he hoped to convince residents that his operation would be a good fit for the former site of Main Street Ice Cream, which was destroyed during a 2005 fire.
McCarty says that hand-paddling fudge or cooking pecan brittle in copper pots adds traditional flavor and entertainment value. Kilwin's Annapolis candy cooks will attend candy school in Michigan and put their skills on display in the front window.
Miron said the city has scheduled a public hearing on the candy-making ordinance for Oct. 22. If given the green light, Kilwin's will eventually produce about 10 percent of the store's chocolate and other candy products.