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Van’s Chocolates ownership transition carries into Valentine’s Day


Bryan Vanderlois, at left, holds one of many gift boxes of sweets for Valentine’s Day. New owner Will Ralston holds his new 67-piece variety pack.

Ralston likes how “chocolates make everyone happy,” such as by triggering the natural feel-good hormone endorphin. He is eager to bring smiles to local patrons of the Hendersonville shop.

Van of course is the nickname for Vanderlois. Late, affable Russ Vanderlois was the driving force behind Van’s until he died a half-decade ago, and a chocolatier for nearly a half-century.

“This was his dream,” his son Bryan, 42, said the other day. Bryan and his mother, Peg Vanderlois, carried on diligently and creatively since then but delayed the inevitable. “With the passing of my Dad, it’s finally time to move on,” Bryan said. He and his mother have stayed on for the transition into this month, including overseeing Ralston using Vanderlois family recipes.

The timing is good, in finding an owner who continues those distinctive recipes such as for truffles. Ralson ran Grimaldi Candies in Melbourne, Fla. for six years, before buying Van’s in November.

“He’ll do a great job,” Bryan said of Will. “He has history of working in chocolates. He loves what he does. He can do an even better job. Also, very important to us that he’ll carry on Dad’s recipes.” Ralston echoes that “we’ll do no changes or recipes.”

Bryan contributed his own concoctions, such as the popular spicy cinnamon truffle. He unveiled a cherry truffle three weeks ago. His sister Christy and he devised toffee and caramel sweets.

Ralson, 35, brings his own distinct treats. He will introduce chocolate-covered potato chips to this area. He sold so many of them when based in Florida, they generated $700,000 a year.

He already has in stock a 67-piece Taste of Van’s variety pack for $70, which is barely more than a dollar per item and at substantial savings. These include caramels, a dozen truffles, and six Van’s wrapped bars.

Van’s is known for its homemade buttery caramels, caramel pecan patties, meltaways, brittle, European-styled truffle flavors, creams and cherry cordials with juicy filling. Van’s shuns preservatives or other additives.

Of course, there are special Valentine’s Day gift baskets and sweet heart-shaped gifts, such as chocolates of various sizes and hollow chocolate boxes with truffles inside.

Van’s also carries such items as chocolate-covered berries, fudge, imported Belgium chocolate bars, crystalized ginger, bark-texturized candy slabs, jellies, malt balls and sugar-free chocolate.

Van’s in coming days will give one free chocolate-dipped strawberry, for each total purchase of $10 or more, Ralston said.

In 1968, then-newlyweds Peg and Russ Vanderlois made homemade candy as holiday gifts using recipes of Russ’ mother such as double-chocolate. Russ was a traditional, hand-dipping candy maker for decades. The business began out of the Vanderlois home, within 35 miles of pro football mecca Green Bay, Wisconsin.

There is a bonus to the ownership transition. Will and his wife, Racine, Wisc. native Celeste, are also fervent Packers fan. Their children are Alexis, 6, Juliette, 4 and 14-week old Will II. “The girls love chocolate,” Will said. When moving here, he told eldest child Alexis “we bought you another chocolate factory.”

Van’s Chocolates is at 202 Chadwick Ave., near the Greenville Highway and Hendersonville’s south corridor. Hours are 10-5, daily except Sunday. For more on Van’s, call 697-2120 or check

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