Gayety’s ramping up for busy holiday season, reaching new customers on social media

Many people go to Gayety’s Chocolate & Ice Cream in downtown Lansing for Valentine’s Day, but the century-old chocolate shop is most popular during the Christmas season.

The ice cream parlor and gourmet chocolate shop at 3306 Ridge Road, which was started by a Greek immigrant on Chicago’s South Side in 1920, has been busy filling corporate orders. Companies give boxes of Gayety’s chocolates to employees or clients.

“We used to do United Airlines, the Chicago Board of Trade and Price Waterhouse Coopers,” owner Laurene Lemanski said. “We still do many corporations, law firms and unions. We’ve done orders from clients like Northwestern University’s football team.”

Lemanski is a real estate agent who had worked at Gayety’s in high school before later buying the business in 2019. She rescued the longtime institution that USA Today named one of the top 50 ice cream parlors in the country and that long has been a major draw to downtown Lansing.

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“It’s been wonderful,” she said. “It’s been a complete joy to talk to everybody. It means a lot to people that we’re open. People come in and tell us their stories. They’ve been coming through the store for decades.”

Gayety’s was going to have a big 100-year anniversary celebration in 2020 but it was canceled by COVID-19. It survived the pandemic.

“We had a huge amount of people coming through for carryout,” Lemanski said. “People wanted comfort food. They couldn’t go anywhere or do anything. It made us happy they ordered Gayety’s during that time of need. We were nervous and didn’t know if we’d be able to remain open.”

The chocolate shop has preserved the tradition of hand-making chocolates and added a viewing window so people there can watch the magic happen.

“We make our chocolate in copper kettles old world style,” she said. “The same recipes have been passed down for 100 years. We still use some of the same equipment, the old copper kettles. We have a couple of ladies who do our candy, passing the tradition on. One candy dipper stayed with us for 40 years and passed the trade onto someone who’s been here for 20 years and is now training somebody else.”

It’s the kind of place where employees stay for decades, she said. 

“They love the craft and the history of the business,” Lemanski said. “That’s why customers have followed us from location to location over the years. We see so many familiar faces. People recognize the employees because they grew up with them.”

Video provided in partnership with The Times, JEDtv and WJOB. Sponsored by Strack & Van Til.

Gayety’s employees have been filling holiday orders for doctors, dentists, real estate brokerages, accounting firms, construction companies and other businesses in Northwest Indiana, Illinois, Chicago and even New York.

“We start doing corporate accounts in the first week of November and hand-deliver them all by Christmas,” she said. “We pack hundreds of thousands of boxes a day, making everything fresh.”

It ships all over the country.

“Our boxes of candy have beautiful packaging,” she said. “The quality of the candy matches up with the nice packaging.”

It’s no longer carried in as many hotels in downtown Chicago but is now stocked at many floral shops and places like Poppin P’ah’letas on U.S. 30 in Schererville.

Easter also is no longer as big as it used to be.

“It’s still busy but the older generation bought their kids and grandkids more candy,” she said. “New families don’t do that but they often come into the store after church so we’re busier on Easter Day.”

While business increases for other holidays, nothing compares to the Christmas season when Gayety’s has to fill special gift orders for months instead of just catering to the big spike in demand a few days before Valentine’s Day or Easter.

Gayety’s gets all decked out for the season. It’s been screening Christmas classics like “A Christmas Story” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“This is actually one of my favorite times of the year at the store,” she said. “We’ve got a ton of Christmas decorations and have nice family-oriented movies. It’s a nice atmosphere to hang out in.”

People order boxes of muddles, which are like turtles, buttered toffee or chocolate-covered almonds or combination boxes that mix all three. Gayety’s inserts personalized cards into the boxes upon request.

“People get it for their doorman, the office or the nurse’s station,” she said. “We’re very popular with doctors during Christmas. We can fill orders in about a week. But if it’s big, like 500 boxes, we ask for a few weeks in advance. We’ve done orders as big as 3,000 boxes.”

Gayety’s brings on an extra 10 to 12 employees every holiday season to handle the ramped-up demand.

“They’re well-trained,” she said. “They’re typically familiar with these accounts. I call them Santa’s little elves.”

The business also seeks to reach the next generation of customers on social media, by posting frequent videos of how the chocolate and ice cream is made on TikTok and Facebook.

“It’s century-old traditions that we’re marketing in an entirely new way,” she said. “There’s so much history inside this store, so many black-and-white photos that it’s like a museum. It’s like going back in time when you enter the store. It’s heartwarming the stories people have about Gayety’s. I encouraged people to come in and share their stories. We’re just happy to be able to do something that means so much to customers, that keeps them coming back for 30 years.”

For more information, find the business on Facebook.

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