The chocolate industry has changed dramatically since Forrest Mars Sr. opened Ethel M Chocolates in Henderson, Nev., 35 years ago.
Today, cocoa concentrations roll off consumers' tongues and bean-to-bar brands sell single-sourced cacao to the masses wrapped in artisanal paper. Some chocolate companies offer notes on tasting and terroir, creating an experience that's more akin to drinking wine than biting into a Snickers bar.
Ethel M has long occupied a comfortable middle ground. The Mars-owned premium chocolate brand is known for its handmade, preservative-free truffles and brittles along with an expansive cactus garden that draws visitors to its Henderson campus and factory store.
Just in time for this year's holiday cacti lighting, which illuminates 300 species of desert plants with more than 500,000 lights, Ethel M unveiled a fully redesigned retail space and guest experience in October.
"We realized it was time to refresh the brand and go deeper," said Ethel M general manager Oren Young. The goal, he added, was to "allow our guests to see our chocolate in a little different light."
To accomplish that mission, the factory store has updated the self-guided viewing aisle that overlooks the kitchens, adding digital displays on history and sustainability.
A new demonstration area features chocolatiers making chocolate-dipped strawberries or caramel apples, and the cafe has been expanded to offer a larger menu of snacks and beverages.
For those with a more profound interest in chocolate, Ethel M has introduced a tasting room, where guests can
purchase a 30-minute guided tasting session that builds in flavor and intensity.
"You want to smell the chocolate first, taste it, taste the texture, talk about the notes you're tasting and why you're tasting that," Young said. "Hopefully we give people a little education."
Today the factory store welcomes about 600,000 visitors per year, but Young envisions a million guests coming through the doors to buy signature items such as Lemon Satin Creme chocolates and pecan brittles.
"Las Vegas is always reinventing itself and changing," he said. "We've kind of done that a bit with our remodel."