To others, it may seem that Droolin' Moose got started under inauspicious circumstances: The shop began in 2007 with a lagging economy, 100 feet of snow that winter and no sign. By conventional wisdom, it wasn't the best time to be going into a consumer-driven business, but the past five years have proven such skepticism wrong.
"I don't think you ever feel safe (starting a businss). You just take a risk," said Co-owner Missy Wettstrom.
"It was a risk worth taking," added Amy Bustos, her sister, collaborator and fellow co-owner.
The two had grown up in a business called Edition III, a small screen printing and embroidery shop in Bloomington. The family has operated Edition III for 21 years, building brands for other businesses one batch of screen-printed T-shirts at a time.
"We'd learned a lot from all of our clients—design firms and corporations—about marketing, design, product," said Wettstrom, who was trained as a graphic designer. "I wanted to create something that took all of our knowledge of 21 years and bring it to the next level—to launch our own product."
Though Wettstrom and Bustos had long had an interest in building a retail brand of their own, the sagging market gave them an added incentive to take a new direction. Edition III's corporate customers were playing it safe and business was down.
"We wanted it as a safety net for our corporate business that we do, not so much financially at that point, but I wanted something positive to focus on when we came to work," Wettstrom said. "So that if we weren't bringing in income with our business we still had something to build in the meantime, so we could keep our mind off of the delayed payments and all the stuff that was happening."
Droolin' Moose began as a brief flash of insomniac inspiration. Wettstrom created the distinctive Moose logo after "dreaming it up in the middle of the night," she said. At that point, they had yet to decide on a product, but the Moose's wagging tongue suggested food. The sisters were looking for something that would appeal to people across all income brackets and ages, that could be sold as a gift for about $10 to $12.
The two chose chocolate and a brand was born.
The team built a little shop in a 200 square foot store room at the back of Edition III's space. At the time it was called "The Secret Chocolate Shop" because there was no sign and no advertising, just a disccrete yellow door in the back of the building. Word began to spread and pretty soon, Droolin' Moose moved to the front part of their retail space in Bloomington.
The two credit their success to the balance their brand strikes between gourmet and goofy. Droolin' Moose is comparable in quality but has an irreverent touch that stands out among chocolatiers like Godiva or the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.
"I wanted a signature piece that people would think was funny and that they could remember, something with a little more attitude than the typical chocolate shops which are fun but a little serious," Wettstrom said. "We wanted something a little more whimsical."
It helps that the store also has a free tasting bar where initiates can try their wares—Squirrel Bait, Malted Milk Boulders and Murtles, Malted Milk Boulders, Salty Bogs (sea salt caramels), and Cherry Bombs among others.
Their approach has won them a following among an unlikely demographic: Dudes. A high percentage of those who come in are male customers.
"It's an easy buy and it's not girly but they know that when they bring it home she's going to like it," Wettstrom said. "They feel at ease in a store like this because it isn't as elegant and fancy."
The Burnsville location is their first attempt at expansion. The store opened at 14600 10th Avenue South about two weeks ago. Eventually they'd like to expand into other towns, perhaps the northwest metro.