Velatis In The News - West End's Best

Winter 2004/2005


It was the 1850’s. Salvidore Velati and his family arrive in Richmond, bringing with them old European recipes from their home in Turin, Italy. Capitalizing on those recipes, the family goes into the candy making business. And, from what little information is available, the candy was very popular among Richmonders of that pre-Civil War era.

The early history of Velatis Candy is somewhat sketchy. But what we do know is that by 1866, the family had moved their candy-making business to Washington, D.C. Some say the family was forced to move out of Richmond after Ulysses S. Grant and his troops ravaged the city.

Whatever the reason for the move, the Velati family made and sold the candy in their confectionary store at 9th and G Streets in the nation’s capital, for more than a century. The old-fashioned candy store, with wrought iron, a soda fountain and Dresden china, became somewhat of a D.C. landmark.

In 1972, the city demolished their store to make way for Washington’s new Metro underground rail system. The family relocated the business into the popular D.C. downtown department store, Woodward and Lothrops, and in the early eighties, Woody’s (as it was better known to Washingtonians) bought the business. All was well. Velatis Candies were still available for its legion of loyal patrons, which through the years had included first ladies Ellen Wilson, Eleanor Roosevelt and Mamie Eisenhower. It is rumored that George W. Bush was also a big fan, as was actress Kim Novak.

But, in the 90s, Woodward and Lothrop bankrupted. Their beautiful stores were closed and the candy making operation ended. That could have been the end of the story of a small business that had its roots in Richmond.

And, that could have been the end of the story. But it’s not. You see, among the many fans of Velatis candy, were Bill and Carol Servais. Bill was a manager with Giant Foods in the D.C. area and his wife, Carol, was a mortgage banker.

The couple had gotten “hooked” on Velatis back in the sixties, when Bill’s mother introduced them to the confectionary, which she had loved as a child growing up in D.C.

The Servais’ daughter, knowing of her parents’ love for the candy had done a little research. “You can’t buy the candy,” she told them, “But, you can buy the company.” And they did.

Woodward and Lothrop’s had sold their assets to the J.C. Penney Company, and among those assets was the Velati name and its old European recipes.

In 1996, the Servais acquired the company and spent a year perfecting the recipes. In ’97 they began a mail order operation, producing and shipping the candy from their home in Florida.

In 2002, the candy-making couple decided that since most of their business was coming from the D.C. market, it would make sense to move north, to reduce shipping costs. Bill Servais, having researched the history of Velatis Candy, decided that it would be fitting to return to the birthplace of the company, Richmond.

Actually, the couple operate out of a store-front in Maidens in Goochland County, but that’s close enough to say that Velatis Candy has returned home. And, now Richmonders are being introduced to a delicious treat that our ancestors enjoyed a century and a half ago.

Bill Servais shows me his candy-making operation and tells me some of the tales of Velatis history. It’s obvious that there’s more here than just a candy business. He recalls one woman who called to order a box of candy. “She told me,” he says, “that about a year previously she had taken a box of Velatis Candy to her father, who suffered from Alzheimer’s.”

“She related to me how when he saw the box, he became his old self for a while,” Servais continues. “She said her father began telling her about how his mother would take him to the candy store as a child.”

Bill and Carol Servais say they would like to re-create the nostalgia associated with the candy, perhaps eventually duplicating the old storefront in a local retail operation. “I would like to do that on our website,” Carol Servais says, “where you could click on (an image of) the door and enter the website.”

In addition to the eleven original recipes, which include both the chewy and the sugary caramels, the Servais have added some new flavors “for today’s generation,” Bill Servais says. Among the new flavors are Pumpkin Spice, Egg Nog, Creme de Menthe, and the very popular Black Cherry Brandy. That recipe garnered the Servais the “Best New Food of 2004” award at the Virginia Food and Beverage Expo, held this past March.

Besides the mail order business, Velatis Candy is sold at several retail locations in D.C., and is now available in Richmond at Dementi Gallery on Grove Avenue, as well as several other locations. You can also purchase the candy at the company’s store/kitchen in Maidens.

The Servais have teamed with Wayne Dementi to produce an outer wrap for the candy boxes containing images of Richmond (and nearby) landmarks. This new appearance reinforces the earliest history of a candy that had been enjoyed for so many years among the D.C. elite, and others.

Now, you can enjoy a taste of Richmond’s history, or, as in my case, several tastes. If you want to learn more about Velatis Candy, visit the website, Or, phone Velatis Candy at 804-556-5977.