A Kid In A Candy Shop: Meet Julie Whitcomb, Founder of Ziva Chocolates

Want to know more about the visionary behind Ziva Chocolates? Meet Julie Whitcomb! Born and raised in Michigan and the daughter of a visionary entrepreneur, her love for all things chocolate and the desire to own her own business stemmed from her experiences as a little girl at her father’s business. Guess you could say she was truly a “kid in a candy shop!” Here is Julie’s story, as interviewed by a Ziva staffer…

Q: So, Julie, tell us about your experience as a little girl, learning from your father?

My dad was a risk taker and a visionary. In 1931 during the Depression, he opened a wholesale paper distribution company with a “grab and go” type of retail shop called Midwest Paper Products – very much like the sidewalk newsstands you see in New York today. This concept was very progressive of the times. The shop operated through 1967 and was situated inside of Detroit’s Eastern Market, located at Cadillac Square in downtown Detroit.  On any given Saturday, some 45,000 Detroiters, suburbanites, and out-of-staters can be found shopping there – for anything from flowers to produce to specialty items. 

Q: What kind of specialty items did he carry?

He primarily sold newspapers, but also tobacco, chocolate and candy. Again, he was thinking from a “grab and go” perspective, and added the cigarettes and candy as ‘added value’ products. Today, we call this “marketing to the impulse buyer” – which you can see at any checkout lane in any given grocery market.  My dad knew that these were two things people loved, especially during that time. Chocolate made people happy, and smoking cigarettes was vary fashionable at the time, so he added these to make life a little “sweeter” during the depression. This was also when his love for chocolate bloomed, and it rubbed off on me!

Q: How do you think his shop influenced you wanting to be in the chocolate business?

I remember when Halloween came around, my dad not only brought home a few bags of candy to give our to the trick or treaters in our neighborhood, but he’d also bring home cases and cases of chocolate bars! Lots and lots of chocolate bars were everywhere! Other kids always loved coming to our house because we had so much chocolate – and we never ran out. This is only one example of how generous my father was…making people happy was always #1 on his agenda every single day. I’m that way, too!

Q: Do you think his skills as a business owner impacted you as a business owner?

100% yes. My dad was a brilliant business owner and partnered with his brother. Eventually, they opened to a much larger location – still in Detroit – and sold all kinds of wholesale paper products. Their tag line was “From Mill to Millions” –  which was in NO WAY about money, but about the process of pulp moving through the Mills, turning into paper and then being sold to millions of people. I interpret this into finding a need in the marketplace and filling that need in a way that makes people happy. My dad was an incredible influence and role model for me as a business owner, and he was an incredible father, as well.  

Q: What is your favorite candy?

Chocolate in any way, shape or form, of course!

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