Velatis In The News - Courier

The Candy Man Can  9-29-2004
By Ryan Bonner

MAIDENS – When William Haneke’s sister was dying of cancer and going through extensive chemotherapy sessions, he knew there was one thing that would make her smile.

“We brightened her up with Velatis caramels,” Haneke said. “She told me that during those last few days, they really made a difference to her.”

Luckily for Goochland County residents, they don’t have to venture far to get their hands on one of the 20 different varieties of Velatis caramel.

In the two years since Velatis returned to its original home in the Richmond area, business has doubled and owners William and Jan Servais are working around the clock to keep up with demand.

Looking around their modest factory-like shop located at 2746-B Maidens Loop in Maidens, one would never guess that the Servais family could churn out 500 pounds of caramel a day if needed.

This past March, Velatis won an award for their black cherry brandy flavored candy at the Virginia Food and Beverage Expo. It was the first contest the Servais family entered since taking over Velatis in 1996, and they came away with first prize in the Best New Product Competition.

“There were 35 - 40 people entered in the contest,” Jan said. “I didn’t think we had a chance, but we won and that makes you want to win even more awards.”
The original Velatis store was opened in Richmond by an Italian immigrant in 1866, but the shop burned to the ground in 1871. For the next 116 years, the company operated out of a building at 620 9th Street N.W., in Washington, D.C.

In 1968, Haneke was in the U.S. Army stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, but he was soon deployed to D.C. during the riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Of course, right next door to where he was located in D.C., was the Velatis factory. Haneke’s ties to Velatis go back generations as his grandfather used to ship their caramels to family members around the country.

Once Woodward & Lothrop, the department store that owned the Velatis brand at the time, filed for bankruptcy in 1986, Haneke thought his favorite treat was no more. When the Servais family bought the company in 1996, they originally operated out of their Florida home, but soon realized that most of their customers were from the D.C. – Virginia area.

Haneke, who now lives in Chesterfield County, said there was an article a couple of years ago in the Richmond Times-Dispatch about Velatis coming back to Virginia.

“My wife left the newspaper open to that story,” Haneke recalled. “When I got home, I just yelled with delight.”

Haneke said he now tries to get over to Velatis as often as possible.

“They are just as good as they were back in the old days,” he said.

And the reason for that is simple if you ask William Servais.

“We won’t sell an inferior product,” he said. “If the texture of the caramel isn’t just right, we throw it out.”

William said they had to redevelop the Velatis name through advertising and re-establish the customer base when they first purchased the company.

“We get people who say ‘I didn’t know you guys still existed’, William said.

Velatis has eight new flavors of caramel available, one of which is sweet and sour green apple.

“Kids can’t eat caramel apples, but they can eat a piece of candy,” William said.

The most popular caramels are vanilla sugary and chocolate sugary, which are much easier on the teeth than the traditional chewy kind, according to William.

Velatis products are made with all natural ingredients and have attracted quite a few famous samplers in the past, including Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Wilson, Eisenhower and their wives.

William said that if the company continues to expand, he’d love to stay in Goochland and leave Velatis where it got its start many years ago.

Jan recently sent out a package full of caramels to a serviceman in Iraq. One of America’s heroes will soon be treated to a delicious surprise.

Haneke said he hoped the Servais’s continued to make his favorite caramels.

“They have helped to pick up the attitude of quite a many of us,” he said.

For those who want to purchase Velatis caramels, they can either call 888-4-VELATIS or stop by the store on Maidens Loop from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday to Friday and 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Saturdays.