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Domenico "Domingo" Ghirardelli, Sr. (1817–1894) was born in Rapallo, Italy, the son and apprentice of a chocolatier. In 1837, Ghirardelli moved to Uruguay, then in 1838 to Lima, Peru, and established a confectionery, and began using the Spanish equivalent of his Italian name, Domingo.
In 1849 he moved to California, upon the recommendation of his former neighbor, James Lick, who had brought 600 pounds of chocolate with him to San Francisco in 1848. Caught up in the California Gold Rush, Ghirardelli spent a few months in the gold fields near Sonora and Jamestown, before deciding to become a merchant in Hornitos, California. In 1852, he moved to San Francisco and established the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company at Ghirardelli Square. According to the San Francisco Chronicle he is considered San Francisco's most successful chocolatier.
His first wife was Elisabetta and they had Angela Ghirardelli and Domenico Ghirardelli jr. When he lost his first wife he married Carmen (1830–?) from Peru. They had the following children: Joseph Ghirardelli (1854–?); Elvira Ghirardelli (1856–?); Louis Ghirardelli (1858–?); Eugene Ghirardelli (1862–?).
Around the year 1865, a worker at the Ghirardelli factory discovered that by hanging a bag of ground cacao beans in a warm room, the cocoa butter would drip off, leaving behind a residue that can then be converted into ground chocolate. This technique, known as the Broma process is now the most common method for the production of chocolate.
- "Hornitos". Ghost Towns, Abandoned Villages, and Historical Sites in the United States and Canada. Retrieved 2007-07-08.
- SF Chronicle, July 25, 2010. "Where to Find Celebrities' Resting Places" by Charlie Wells
- "Ghirardelli". The Ghirardelli Story - A Rich Heritage. Retrieved 2009-01-10.