Scott Riccelli came to Richmond Hill in 2008 for the same reason that many move to the area — the schools.
The New Jersey native came to visit Savannah, fell in love with the people and area and never left. Some might call him a "damn Yankee," he laughs, but he and wife Rosalie have fallen in love with the people and southern culture and call the move the best decision they’ve ever made.
Their Richmond Hill business, "All Things Chocolate, and More" on Ford Avenue is a popular stop for local, and tourists alike, for the food and, naturally, the sweet varieties of chocolate.
"In 1996, we were driving down to Disney World with the grandkids and we stopped off in Savannah," Riccelli recalls. "We really loved the area. We loved the little shops and we said some day when we retire, we’re going to come south.
Riccelli says "life got in the way" and the move didn’t occur until several years later. Daughter Margaret Ann and her husband, David Willis, also decided to move with their daughter Ava, who is now a sophomore at Richmond Hill High School.
Riccelli calls Richmond Hill a great place to live and work and doesn’t see his family ever leaving.
"The only way they are going to get me out of here is in a box," he said. "We’ve been here eight years and I’ve only been back to New Jersey twice. If I could just learn to handle the bugs, it would be much better."
All five live in the same house and work in the store. That closeness might present problems for some, but the Riccelli family embraces it.
"It might sound strange but my hobby is spending time with my family and wife," Scott said. "We love doing things together, so for us working and living together is the perfect answer. We’re here seven days a week so we don’t get much time off. Being with my family is important to me."
While moving south is something many people do, but opening a chocolate business in a Henry Ford town is a bit unusual.
Riccelli’s son-in-law had a chocolate store in New Jersey for 13 years and was experienced in running a retail shop, but Riccelli said when he and Rosalie moved south, opening a chocolate store was, perhaps, the furthest thing from his mind.
"I came down here thinking I was going to retire," he recalled. "After we got here, Rosalie wanted to make cupcakes and baked goods and take them to the local store owners to sell in their shops. But we decided that if we do that, we will lose control of the quality once the product leaves our hands.
"The next step was to have our own little store, so we rented space over by Publix, which was about 1,000 square feet," he continued. "Once we got in there we had a couple of showcases for chocolate. Then we bought a couple of manufacturing machines for the chocolate. Making chocolate in fun thing but we quickly outgrew the space. Customers would come and want to have a cup of coffee and a place to sit."
Riccelli said when they started to look for a larger shop, leaving Richmond Hill was not an option. They opened at their current location, 10471 Ford Ave., in December 2013.
The New Jersey transplant said his business is customer driven, which accounts for the constant review of the menu items and physical attributes of the store. Keeping pace with customers’ desires is one reason for the success of the business. Another, he said, is the dedication of the employees and family members. One menu item, their chicken salad, recently received statewide recognition as some of the best in Georgia.
"Word of mouth is always the best way to expand our business," he said. "We try to do whatever the customer wants because they are the lifeline of our business. It helps that when you come in to the chocolate store, you’re already in a good mood."
Being more than just a retail outlet for all things sweet, the store also hosts small gatherings, such as baby showers and birthday parties. He called that end of the business a natural extension and expansion of a successful business venture.
It also helps that the elder Riccelli loves chocolate and eats it every day.
"People come and say ‘You’ve been doing this for a while. You must get tired of it,’ and I keep telling them it’s like breathing air. You never get tired of it."
Another philosophy of his is everything in moderation. He says that is the reason he never puts on weight despite eating chocolate daily.
"We have a very wide selection of chocolate so every day I have a new favorite," he said. "Naturally the cannolis and Italian bread pudding is my ‘favorite’ favorite, but the chocolate is a very nice snack."
Riccelli’s ancestors hail from Calabria, Italy, and his heritage is evident throughout the store from menu items to store decorations. His father arrived in New Jersey in 1905 and met his mother there
Riccelli said he hopes to retire — again — one day.
"We have three generations here. We all seem to enjoy the business but one day I want to retire and relax."
He says the success of his business is tied to hard work and the advice a friend once gave him.
"A friend of mine, Pete Mango, told me something a long time ago that I still remember. That had to be in 1963. He had a tremendous influence on my work ethic. He said ‘the harder you work, the luckier you get.’ To me that means if you work hard and keep at it, things are going to go well for you. Also, my father, Carlo, told me you learn by listening, you don’t learn anything by talking."
The Riccellis have carved a business and social niche in the community that brings customers to their store, which now has nine employees, not counting family members, are always greeted with a pleasant hello. Riccelli said his family gets to know the customers and for them it is more than a business relationship.
"They’re our friends," he said.