If you walk by Kilwins on Bishop Road in The Shops at Legacy, you’ll see a bonafide Mackinac Island fudge-making station through the shop’s front window. A giant copper kettle churns out smooth and creamy fudge that’s placed on a white marble countertop and cut into slabs. Glass cases filled with truffles, caramel apples, and chocolate-covered strawberries line the walls. And, if you make it through to the back of the shop without satisfying your sweet tooth, there are 24 flavors of ice cream to choose from.
Kilwins is a dessert destination unlike any other—while we’re familiar with many different ice cream parlors and chocolate shops, Kilwins combines the two concepts and manages to offer even more. Founded in 1947 on Michigan’s Mackinac Island, Kilwins is a tried and true sweets destination in Michigan and along the East Coast. The company began franchising in the 1970s and now has more than 120 stores in 23 states, with the majority in Michigan, Florida and North Carolina.
Alejandro and Mili Rodriguez were the first to bring Kilwins to Texas. The husband and wife duo, who live in Frisco, opened the franchise in March 2018. Both were raised in Veracruz, Mexico but Alejandro was born in Michigan and returned frequently throughout his childhood to visit family. He and his family have been making trips to the Kilwins there for as long as he can remember.
When the family were traveling throughout Florida and Arkansas, they noticed how popular Kilwins had become in other states and realized that there weren’t any in Texas.
In 2016, Alejandro wrote to the Kilwins franchise and made his pitch for a Collin County-based shop, only to be told that the franchise wasn’t ready yet due to distribution concerns—the ice cream is made in an Ohio dairy and the chocolates are made in Michigan. Since Texas is so far from the distribution points, the franchise was worried that the quality of the product might suffer.
But in 2017, Kilwins contacted Alejandro and told him that they had worked out the logistics and were ready to begin franchising in Texas. Since then, other franchisees have opened Kilwins stores in San Antonio and Grapevine. A Roanoke location is set to open later this year.
Mili runs the day-to-day operation of the shop with the help of nine employees who all know how to make the treats, including the arduous processes of making fudge and caramel, and melting the 10-pound Kilwins chocolate bars that are shipped to the store in order to hand-dip each and every item.
Since Kilwins didn’t originate in Texas, many of their Plano customers are transplants who knew and loved Kilwins in other states. In March 2018—Kilwins Plano’s first month in business—nearly all sales came from people who had anticipated the launch of the store because they had been to other locations. Many come in asking for specific items, including the Kilwins famous sea salt caramel ice cream. In fact, when the store first opened, a customer came in and bought an entire tub for his wife’s birthday.
“I think one of the most rewarding things is that people come in and tell us that having Kilwins in Plano is like having a piece of home,” Mili says.
The recipe book contains more than 1,000 different treats that franchisees can choose to have in their stores. In addition to their famous fudge, caramel apples and truffles, there are 49 different flavors of ice cream, hot chocolate, milkshakes, and pretty much anything you can think of dunked in chocolate, including strawberries, Oreo cookies, pretzels, nuts and even Rice Krispies Treats. Kilwins also makes their own caramel and marshmallows and prides themselves on the consistency of both—they’re never hard, and always smooth and creamy. As Alejandro puts it, “dentist-approved.”
At Kilwins Plano, some of the most popular items are the peanut brittle, chocolate-covered orange peels, and mocha truffles. Kids love the Superman ice cream—a swirl of red, blue and yellow with a fruity flavor. Mili’s favorite is the Turtle Marshmallow and Alejandro likes the Turtle Pretzel Rod, both of which are dipped in Kilwins chocolate, drizzled with caramel and rolled in crushed pecans.
The Rodriguez family aren’t new to entrepreneurship; Alejandro owns two Snap-on tool trucks that have operated in the Northwest Dallas region for the last decade. But owning Kilwins is a completely different ballgame. The one similarity: when a customer enters one of Alejandro’s tool trucks, they often say they feel like a kid in a candy store.
“We really wanted something we could do together as a family,” Mili says. “We wanted to teach the kids the importance of hard work and commitment. And we wanted them to look forward to it.”
Alejandro Jr. and Alina serve ice cream, restock shelves and make peanut brittle before breaking it down and stuffing it into bags. While I interview his parents, I spot Alejandro Jr. peeking around a corner.
The Rodriguez family loves the sense of community that owning Kilwins has given them. They enjoy meeting new people and catching up with customers-turned-friends who stop by for dessert after dinner out at The Shops at Legacy. They look forward to seeing the professionals from surrounding businesses who often make trips to the store for afternoon snacks, commenting on how the smell of the Kilwins homemade waffle cones wafts down the street and draws them in. More than anything, they love what Kilwins represents for them and so many others—a piece of home in Collin County.
7161 Bishop Rd. Ste. G3, Plano | 469.298.0941 | kilwins.com/stores/kilwins-plano