Italian Americans have made their mark on American history since arriving from Italy during the late 1880’s. By 1920, more than four million Italians called the U.S. their home. While the majority suffered prejudice and hardships, many were able to turn those difficult times into prosperity. Notable Italian immigrants and children of immigrants became successful business men and women contributing to the rapid growth of American business in the 20th century. This year, La Gazzetta Italiana will highlight just a handful of the brave, intelligent and daring Italian immigrants who blazed their own trail in American business.
Quella di Domenico Ghirardelli è una storia simbolo del successo italiano negli Stati Uniti. Nato in Liguria nel 1817, il futuro imprenditore era figlio di un mastro cioccolatiere. Giovanissimo, si trasferì prima in Uruguay per intraprendere un’attività di produzione di caffè e cioccolato, poi in California sul finire degli anni ’40 inseguendo il sogno della corsa all’oro. Dopo aver invano speso egli stesso alcuni mesi come cercatore, decise di mettere la sua passione per il cioccolato al servizio delle migliaia di uomini arrivati da tutto il Mondo. Nel 1852 fondò a San Francisco la celebre Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, un marchio di successo che contraddistingueva prodotti alimentari esportati in tutto il mondo. San Francisco non dimenticò mai l’imprenditore che ebbe l’audacie e la lungimiranza di puntare sul cioccolato in un’epoca segnata dal miraggio dell’oro. Sebbene la morte lo colse nel comune natale di Rapallo dove si era ritirato in pensione, la città statunitense gli ha reso un indelebile tributo intitolandogli una delle piazze più importanti dell’area portuale, su cui ancora oggi si affacciano gli uffici della Ghirardelli Chocolate Company.
Domenico ‘Domingo’ Ghirardelli, Sr. was born on February 21, 1817 in Rapallo, Italy. His birth came just two years after the village was given to the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont as part of the Duchy of Genoa from the English who freed it in 1814. Domenico was born to Giuseppe and Maddalena Ghirardelli. His father was a spice merchant in the port city of Genoa. By Domenico’s teenage years, he was introduced to the chocolate and confectionary trade when he apprenticed with a noted chocolatier in Genoa.
Pietro Romanengo confectionary first opened its doors in 1780 and has been family-owned ever since. The shop took orders from prominent figures from all over the world including Giuseppe Verdi, the Duchess of Parma and prominent Genoese families such as the Doria and Grendi. It is here that Ghirardelli’s passion for chocolate began.
In 1838, at about the age of 20, Domenico left for South America to start his own chocolate business. He first went to Uruguay and then to Peru where he opened a confectionary store next to a shop owned by American James Lick. Lick established a successful piano manufacturing fortune in South America before traveling to California and eventually becoming the wealthiest man in the state by the time of his death. When Lick relocated to California, he arrived in San Francisco just before gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill. And, he brought 600 pounds of Ghirardelli’s chocolate with him.
By now, Domenico had changed his name to the Spanish equivalent, Domingo. Domingo Ghirardelli decided to follow in his friend’s footsteps. He headed to California to test his luck at gold prospecting. Quickly deciding he was better at chocolate than mining, he opened a shop out of a tent in Stockton for gold miners in 1849. Eventually, he opened a shop in Hornitos, CA that was successful enough to convince him to open another in San Francisco. In 1852, Domingo established the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company at what would become known as Ghirardelli Square. In 1865, a Ghirardelli employee discovered that by hanging a bag of cocoa beans in a warm room, the cocoa butter drips off, leaving a residue that can be processed into ground chocolate. This technique, known as the Broma process, is now the most common method used for the production of chocolate.
Domingo married Elisabetta Corsini, a native of Italy, in 1837. She died in 1846. The following year, Domingo married Carmen Alvarado Martin, of Lima, Peru. The couple had seven children. Domenico “Domingo” Ghirardelli died on a trip to Italy in 1894 of influenza. He was inducted into the Candy Hall of Fame in 2012.
Over the years, Ghirardelli Chocolate Company experienced many changes, but continued to thrive. Eventually, in 1892, Domingo retired and his three sons took over the business. The company was sold in 1962 to two prominent San Franciscans who turned Ghirardelli Square into a modern specialty shopping center while retaining the Victorian qualities of the complex. In 1965, the Square was declared an official city landmark of San Francisco. Today, Ghirardelli Chocolate Company is owned by Lindt & Sprungli, a world-leading manufacturer of chocolates and confections.
Italian American Domenico ‘Domingo’ Ghirardelli was a pioneer in the American business world. Cleverly recognizing that American gold miners had gold dust to spend and were starving for treats in the mines led to founding the richest legacy of any American chocolate company. Every time you bite into a delicious square of Ghirardelli chocolate, taste the sweet Italian American dream of Domenico Ghirardelli.