Paul Thomas Chocolates is a small, local shop located right in the heart of downtown Dahlonega. Locals and tourists alike can be seen flowing in and out of the store to purchase high-quality, homemade treats. High school and college workers come and go, interacting with customers behind the counter. But few workers get to experience the true magic of the store: the art of candy making.
Daniel Mihok is a 25-year-old Dahlonega native. He graduated from Lumpkin County High School, got a part-time job at Paul Thomas Chocolates and went on to major in mathematics at the University of North Georgia. He worked at the chocolate store through college, eventually moving into the back to help the owners, Paul and Lori Thomas, make the candy. Mihok graduated college and landed a mathematics job near Atlanta but continued to work at Paul Thomas. As time went on and the owners began thinking about retirement, they talked to Daniel and his brother, Micah, about owning the business one day. Meetings were had, papers were signed, and as of January of this year, the Mihok brothers are the new co-owners of Paul Thomas Chocolates.
Robert Heflin’s beginning at the chocolate store was similar to Mihok’s—he started part-time working right around his start at the University of North Georgia. He moved right to the chocolate workshop in the back of the store, however, the only employee to ever do so. Heflin proudly calls himself a “chocolatier” and sees his position as an important but dying craft in the age of mass production. He considers Dahlonega to be the best place for the chocolate store to thrive, however, as the town embraces local artists and small-town businesses. As much as he loves being a candy maker, Heflin is nearing graduation and has started thinking about the future. He plans to join his parents’ new real estate business where he will make enough money to begin life on his own as an adult.
Jessie Massey has been devoted to Paul Thomas Chocolates for as long as it has existed in Dahlonega. A loyal customer for years, Massey fell in love with the quality of handmade chocolate and submitted her resume repeatedly until she got the call to come in. She went straight into the workforce after high school after seeing a few friends spend time and money not knowing what to do with their futures. Massey loves baking, partly because of her mother’s history of cooking and baking. As a kid, she sat in the kitchen and watched her mother create, sometimes joining in on the process. Her mother passed away a few years ago from sickness, but Massey is proud to follow in her footsteps as a baker. She hopes to one day open a bookstore cafe with homemade treats, something she claims Dahlonega is lacking. Massey believes that the cafe will honor her mother, who never failed to encourage her to pursue her dreams.
Gabriella Audi is a senior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. This story was produced during the 14th Annual Woodall Weekend Workshop in Dahlonega, Georgia.