In Marketplace

Nedra Clague and Chris Steeno co-own Sweettrio chocolates in Grafton.

In Marketplace

An assortment of the many, many locally made chocolates at Sweettrio.

In Marketplace

Sweettrio displays its caramel apples for easy ordering and to foster mouth-watering.

In Marketplace

Clague gets ready to make an elaborate confection.

In Marketplace

Sweettrio's lemon custard with raspberries gelato.

In Marketplace

Sweettrio is located in downtown Grafton.

Sweettrio exudes peace, love and chocolate

Sweettrio, 1225 Washington St., Grafton, is a shop specializing in the sweet trio of chocolate, caramel apples and gelato. It is owned and operated by Christine Steeno and Nedra Clague.

"We consider ourselves an affordable indulgence," says Steeno.

Clague adds that Sweettrio specializes in "critical nonessentials." The two chocolatiers have been friends for years and have worked together in the chocolate industry for a combined 18 years.

"Gelato carries us over the summer. Caramel apples we focus on primarily in the fall and around holidays. Everybody loves chocolate year 'round," says Steeno.

Ingredients for Sweettrio's handmade chocolate is imported from Europe and everything else is as locally sourced as possible or from local distributors.

Sweettrio uses Wisconsin honey, nuts from a Waukesha company, apples from Machi Produce and Alterra products, like cookies and brownie bites, which are then dipped in Sweettrio chocolate.

"Alterra loves us and we love them," says Steeno, whose chocolate-dipped Alterra brownie bite is one of the most popular at Sweettrio.

Sweettrio is located right next door to the Alterra Coffee shop in Grafton.

Sweettrio also makes truffles with many intricate designs, from dark chocolate, blackberry, cappuccino and dreamsicle to key lime, French vanilla and Grand Marnier.

Ninety percent of what is sold at Sweettrio is made in-house. Items for Internet orders are made the day they're shipped.

"We pride ourselves on freshness," says Steeno.

Weekends are busy times in the Sweettrio factory / store and Monday often finds the Sweettrio owners and their staff of nine making many new batches of peanut clusters, terrapins, caramel mallows, cashew turtles, coconut haystacks, mint melts, chocolate-covered orange peels and "peanut butter lover's peanut butter cups."

Sweettrio started making homemade fudge three months ago, and it has also become a popular item.

"Our new tagline is: where chocolate is a lifestyle," Steeno says in a low and smooth radio announcer-type voice. "But you've got to have the voice to say it."

Chocolates range in price, much of it by weight. A pound of chocolates is $24.95 per pound and a variety of samplers sell for less.

Steeno and Clague say they feel competitive on price and don't want people to get scared away from chocolate delight because of initial sticker shock. After all, a pound of chocolates is hard to imagine. Steeno points out that a large cashew / pecan turtle sells for $1.25, which is comparable to a candy bar at the convenience store.

Sweettrio's caramel apples range in price from $5 to $8. The gourmet treats really are a sight to behold and come in varieties like the "classic pecan" and chocolate sea salt caramel to the three-layered "Sweettrio chocolate caramel" apple.

The bulk of Sweetrio's business consists of customized corporate gift packages, for use as employee gifts, trade show giveaways and finger food for office meetings, among other things. Steeno and Clague have tons of ideas on how to use their products.

The packages come highly recommended by corporate clients such as Rockwell Automation, GE Healthcare, Relax the Back and United Financial Services and accolades from representatives of these companies and others can be seen on Sweettrio's walls – in addition to awards.

Internet sales are next with business in the Grafton store rounding out the trio.

"We've worked really hard to create an atmosphere, an experience, for walk-in customers," says Clague.

The fun atmosphere includes free samples for kids, catering to families and getting to know customers.

"We give a personal touch, like at a coffee shop where people know your drink," says Steeno, who adds that it's been fun to see families come in for the last four years and see the kids as they grow.

Steeno and Clague opened Sweettrio in May 2008. The business partners were going to start an e-commerce-only business, but a mutual friend put them in contact with the president of U.S. Bank, which offered them enough start-up money and terms they could't refuse.

"Right after the world went to hell in a handbag," says Clague.

Despite the Great Recession, Sweettrio continues to thrive. In November, Steeno's husband, a CPA, was able to retire and work afternoons in the store.

The Sweettrio owners have hired a full-time sales and marketing staffer, who drums up more corporate clients as well as handles the company's social media. A new Sweettrio website will debut at the end of July.

Sweettrio has a kiosk located in the Cedarburg Piggly Wiggly and plans to have another for the holidays in Southridge Mall. New office space is being built above the store in order to make room for assembling packages in the store due to increased shipping orders.

"It will be Sweettrio global headquarters," says Steeno of the new office space.

Steeno and Clague have donated thousands of dollars to breast cancer awareness through Sweettrio, and are strong supporters of Portal, Inc., which provides services and employment opportunities to people with developmental disabilities.

Steeno's son takes advantage of Portal's services.

The present holds its challenges but the future for Sweettrio certainly looks to be "peace, love and chocolate" (a company logo also emblazoned on T-shirts sold in the store).



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