May 22, 2024
A Sweet Spot

Photo: Grant Gappelberg

Brothers Grant, left, and Austin Gappelberg run the Hampton Chocolate Factory, a family business they took over after their family relocated from New York to Florida during the pandemic. Patrons line up to indulge in giant soft-serve cones and other sugary treats. 

Rising Executives: Ones to Watch

A Sweet Spot

Laura Lyon | 12/15/2023

Hampton Chocolate Factory, Tampa

Austin Gappelberg, a 22-year-old recent graduate of the University of Tampa, and his 20-year-old brother, Grant, took an early interest in entrepreneurship, beginning with small door-to-door jobs before they started first grade. The sons of entrepreneurial parents, the brothers worked at the family’s chocolate shop in New York’s Hamptons, and by the time they were teenagers they’d worked their way up to managing the shop in the summer. “Our dad always used to say, ‘You guys are amazing. Together, you’re unbeatable,’” Austin says.

As the fledgling entrepreneurs grew, they read business books and learned on the job from parents Caroline and Evan Gappelberg, a former Wall Street investment banker who now runs the augmented reality and 3-D modeling company When the family relocated to Florida, the brothers took over the Hampton Chocolate Factory brand, opening in Tampa’s Sparkman Wharf shopping and dining complex in January 2022. Austin, then still attending business school, and Grant, a current University of Tampa student, hold the titles of co-CEOs. “The dream was always New York,” Grant says, “But once we came to Florida, and we lived here for a couple of months, we saw the quality of life, we saw the potential of the state as a whole. We decided to go all in on it, and it’s been paying major dividends.”

And business has been sweet. In addition to hawking 18-inch, $30 soft-serve ice cream cones to customers who on some days form a block-long line to get in, the brothers also have launched a thriving corporate gift service of organic, fair-trade chocolate that this year needed 2,000-sq.-ft. of warehouse space to fulfill orders. They employ 30 people.

The Gappelbergs also have become a fixture in Tampa’s business community, frequently appearing at corporate, professional development and philanthropy events and hosting private business gatherings in the shop. Last year, the brothers joined in Hillsborough County’s “CEOs in Schools” programs, which brings business leaders to elementary schools to teach about entrepreneurism. At Lockhart Elementary Magnet School in Tampa, then-Principal Natalie Corsanico said the Gappelbergs made it easy for students to visualize what their own futures may hold.

Since opening their 1,700-sq.-ft. store, the Gappelbergs have been fine-tuning the business, which is in the heart of the city’s new $3-billion Water Street Tampa development and is a draw for cruise passenger traffic with Port Tampa Bay, just steps away.

Their social media acumen put them on customers’ radar. While putting in overtime at the store, Grant dedicated 40 hours a week to social media and set a goal of increasing the store’s 3,000 followers to 10,000 in a month. Today, the Hampton Chocolate Factory Instagram account has nearly 400,000 followers, and it’s not unusual for its videos to garner more than a million views each.

“We’ve had some people from Hong Kong, Colombia, England,” Austin adds. “They’ve seen us everywhere. They literally show their phone and say, ‘I want this.’”

Their relative youth is their competitive advantage, they say.

“The earlier you start, the bigger head start you’re going to have,” Grant says. 

Tags: Retail & Sales, Feature, Rising Executives

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