The Chocolate Cafe

The Chocolate Cafe opens as downtown starts thriving

The Chocolate Cafe
Paul and Kristin Zaal at the new Chocolate Cafe, which opened recently downtown. (Emily Zaal for City Pages.)

When Kristin and Paul Zaal opened The Chocolate Shop in 2022, it was mostly with the idea that it would complement their wholesale business. 

But that’s not exactly how it panned out – people flocked to the Chocolate Shop in search of its delicious European chocolates. Those chocolates somehow seem to use far less sugar than their American counterparts but still taste as delicious if not moreso. 

So why not try an additional brick and mortar business? The Zaals had looked at Sweets on Third when it was for sale, but that didn’t quite work out. But when they found a spot in the Third Street Lifestyle Center (which most Wausau residents still likely remember as Washington Square), an idea came to life. 

Last week the Zaals opened The Chocolate Cafe, and they’re trying some things that Wausau either hasn’t seen before, or doesn’t see much of. 

New items for Wausau

One thing is gelato, the Italian version of ice cream. The first shipment of gelato dethawed on Thursday, ready for customers to try. The 19 flavors look colorful inside the case, reminiscent of the variety once found at Gelato Cafe on Jefferson Street (where Studio E is now). 

For those who aren’t in the know, gelato is churned at a slower speed than ice cream, and while it’s very similar, the effect is to produce a smoother, richer texture and a density that’s very different than what many are used to.

The item that really stands out, which as far as anyone knows has never been served in Wausau before, is the Belgian drinking chocolate. The Zaals have combined them with their espresso drinks to create a Choco-latte, which is starting to garner attention. 

And, they have a pastry chef in Mosinee creating their pastries, including soon with gouda from a cheesemaker in Thorp.

Building The Chocolate Cafe

The cafe is located in what was a clothing store, though the Zaals conducted a lot of renovation to get the cafe its current look. The branding is similar to The Chocolate Shop on Third Avenue and uses the same color scheme, contrasted with the glass displays and brick side wall behind the counter. The effect is to have an Instagram worthy backdrop to some delicious treats. 

The downtown is undervalued right now, Paul Zaal tells me. As I sit with Kristin and Paul, folks make their way through the cafe, and more walk by the window periodically in the middle of the afternoon. 

“I think what we found with the Chocolate Shop is that a lot of people underestimate Wausau and its buying power, and the number of people downtown,” Paul Zaal says. 

While many believe the downtown will really be a hotspot once planned housing where the mall stood finally opens, Zaal says the impact from the Children’s Imaginarium and other businesses opening has already had an impact. 

He points to the corner facing the former mall site, which overlooks the Children’s Imaginarium. They installed children’s seating facing the Imaginarium, perfect for parents and their littles ones to enjoy pre or post-Imaginarium outing. 

But it’s not just the little ones the Zaals are catering to — they’re also staying open later. They’re finding people are looking for some place to hang out between say dinner and a show at the Grand and now they’re starting to find the Chocolate Cafe, Kristin Zaal says.

The Chocolate Cafe is open from 8 am to 8 pm except for Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesday when they close at 7 pm. They are located at 300 N Third Street, ste 102. Find the Chocolate Cafe on Facebook and Instagram.