Molding Southern Nevada with Chocolate

Community Impact

The Smith Center has helped play a role in Southern Nevada’s development since we opened five years ago, and we’re happy to work with local entities that have shaped our community for decades. These include Ethel M Chocolates, a mainstay of Southern Nevada and a Smith Center sponsor.

Stu Haack, Ethel M marketing and PR manager, recently discussed the company’s fascinating history.

How did Forrest Mars Senior come to found Ethel M Chocolates in 1981?

Mars Inc., the world’s largest chocolate company, was founded by Frank Mars back in the 1920s. Forrest Mars Senior was the second generation of the business. This is the guy who had a huge part in creating great products like M&M’s and Snickers that everyone is familiar with.

He retired from Mars in the ‘70s and moved to Henderson, because he loved the desert. He had no plans of building another business, but he saw an opportunity as Las Vegas was growing and thought, ‘I’m going to build one more chocolate brand, using my mother’s recipes,’ which is why it’s named Ethel M, for his mom Ethel Mars.

How has the company changed since then?

We’ve gone through a lot of different changes. We started with a very different business model back in 1981. What we were actually doing in the beginning was providing hotels with crème liqueur chocolates to use for turndown service, which went perfectly with Las Vegas.

We don’t do that anymore — we’ve turned our focus to family and special occasions. We also just did a renovation on our factory store last year. We invested into making this an experience with a Chocolate Tasting Room and demonstration area.

How did the cactus garden come to be?

It originally wasn’t a big attraction. When Forrest Mars Senior built his factory out here, he built his apartment on top of the factory to stay close to the production and make sure the quality was there. He loved cacti and built this cactus garden as his back yard. It wasn’t 3 and a half acres when it began. It continued to grow over time and he started to realize that people wanted to see it.

What kind of economic impact has the company had locally?

We’ve been providing jobs for over 35 years at this point in Henderson at this factory and across our multiple retail stores, so we’re definitely a staple in the community.

Why does Ethel M support The Smith Center as a sponsor?

The Smith Center has done such a wonderful job of bringing art and culture to the community. We’re very passionate at Ethel M about bringing premium experiences, bringing culture and bringing the best to people, and The Smith Center has certainly done that.