GREEN BAY — The Easter season is the longest Christian holiday of the year for folks in the confectionery business. For the owners of Kaap’s Old World Chocolates in Green Bay, it’s also their favorite season of the year.
Kaap’s has been a part of the Green Bay community since 1907. The business is owned by Carl and Carol Johanski, members of Resurrection Parish in Allouez, and their son Greg Johanski, a member of Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in Green Bay.
Carol described how this legendary establishment came to be.
“The business was started by Otto Kaap (pronounced Cop). He was a banker by trade and he was also a percussionist in the Bijou and Orpheum Theater Orchestras,” said Carol. “They needed a trumpet player and Otto had a friend in Oshkosh who played the trumpet very well and he wanted him to move here and come and play in the orchestra.”
His friend made a proposition, explained Johanski.
“He said, ‘Otto, I will do that but I’ve always wanted to own a chocolate shop and you’re a banker. Would you go into business with me and then I will move to Green Bay,’” he said. “After a very short time the man found out that working that hard making chocolates wasn’t his cup of tea so he up and left Otto holding the bag,” she added.
The original business was located on Main Street in the heart of downtown Green Bay. It was moved to Washington Street in 1910. The establishment expanded through the years to include a coffee and tea shop, a bakery, then a restaurant and a bar.
After Kaap died, leaving no successors, the business was purchased by Walter and Horst Stemke. When the historic two-story building was razed by the city of Green Bay to make room the Boston Store in the late 1970s, Horst moved the chocolate portion of the business to Mason Street.
Twenty years ago, the Johanski family purchased the business. “Our family bought all of Otto Kaap’s original recipes — everything involved in the confectionary or chocolate side, and moved it over here (1921 S. Webster St. in Allouez),” said Greg. “I was working other jobs but like any other family business you help out where needed. I do a lot of stuff behind the scenes. Dad is the master chocolatier. We kept the name Kaap’s because this is Otto Kapp’s business, it’s his recipes, it’s his chocolates. We’re a steward of that.”
The Johanskis are proud of their Catholic roots and are upfront about their faith. “When you walk up (to our shop this time of year) you’ll find a cross outside with the satin and silk and the lilies on each side,” noted Greg. They wish their customers a “Happy Easter,” and have no issue saying “God bless you” to them as well.
Living their faith at work comes naturally for the owners of Kaap’s Old World Chocolates. “You try to do that in everything that you do. I think there’s that pressure out there that you have to separate your business from your faith but it’s your whole life,” said Greg. “Otherwise, if you separate it then anything goes.”
Their faith permeates all of their relationships at work —with employees, customers and suppliers, he said. “People will come in here for 20 minutes, half an hour, a lot of the conversation is about the pain in their life, whether it’s death, disease, cancer or it’s about hope or about their faith, whether it’s Catholicism or another faith. It’s amazing what people will talk about.”
Not only from a business standpoint, but from a faith standpoint, Easter is so meaningful, said Greg. “It’s the culmination. Everything is about the Passion and the resurrection. All our hope is there.”
Kaap’s offers a wide variety of chocolates and sweets for Easter that focus on the resurrection including decorated Easter bunnies with jelly beans, chicks and hens, milk or dark chocolate crosses, fudge eggs and cream eggs wrapped in brightly colored tissue, which is probably their best seller. Each egg is hand rolled, hand dipped and hand wrapped.
“It’s our most labor intensive season,” added Carol.
Following in Otto’s tradition of using only the freshest ingredients for their products — select pure whipping cream, sweet creamy butter, pure vanilla and cane sugar to create European-style chocolates, the chocolates the Johanskis create are made daily with fresh, natural ingredients, one copper kettle at a time. Their unique blends of chocolates, taken from Otto’s own recipes, make their confections like no other, they say.
Kaap’s Old World chocolates have been a tradition for Green Bay area families for decades. “The reminiscing that goes on here is astronomical,” said Carol. “It was part of their bringing up. You can tell by the orders we get across the country, this just didn’t stay here. It spread as the generations moved away, they’re appreciative that we are still here handling Kaap’s chocolates for them. It’s not just coming in to buy chocolates — they come here to reminisce, to bring themselves back to that time and the beautiful chocolates.”