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Van’s gives law officers sweet Valentine’s treats

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Van’s owners are Celeste and Will Ralston. She holds the candy box each officer got. He shows a heart-shaped treat. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

By Pete Zamplas- Van’s Chocolates was the Valentine’s Day treat to 215 law enforcement officers in Henderson County last week, thanks to Van’s and the local Stand T.A.L.L. program.

Already, officers get free coffee for a week each month from various restaurants. This month the bonus perk was handmade premium candy from Van’s Chocolates.

Further, Van’s offers an ongoing 10 percent discount to military veterans, law enforcement officers and firefighters.

Will and Celeste Ralston greatly discounted the price of 215 boxes worth nearly $1,300 that they prepared and packaged last week, Celeste said. Each four-piece box has caramel, toffee, cream and/or a melt-away. Toffee and caramels are among Van’s most popular and best-selling sweets.

“It’s a drop in the bucket, compared to what these wonderful men and women in our area law enforcement do for us,” Will said. “Police are necessary for our security — both domestically and overseas” — and more than ever since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and ongoing potential threats. “Police are some of the best people we have around,” he added. “They’re so under-appreciated, on a daily basis.”

Celeste said she is also extremely grateful for “how they protect us.” Celeste’s father served in the National Guard. Will’s great-grandfather fought in World War II.

It felt very rewarding when two people recently thanked them for the 10 percent discount. “We’re not pounding our chests” over the ongoing discount nor Valentine’s treats, Will emphasized. “They’re important to our community. We simply want them to know we ‘got their backs.’”

Stand T.A.L.L. stands for Thank A Local Lawman. The non-profit group has funded bullet-proof outer vests, training and supplies and arranged for free Coffee for Cops since October. It just got a $500 Staples community foundation grant, to use for “positive change.”

Founder Ron Kauffman said it was pivotal to award candy to many law officers. “We wanted every officer to receive a box. So we went with relatively smaller, rather than fewer recipients. These are light and dark chocolates — some with nuts, others with fruit filling.” They went to sheriff’s sworn deputies, sworn police officers of Hendersonville and Laurel Park, and Blue Ridge Community College security as those were the departments responding to the offer.

Stand T.A.L.L. has gotten more than 50 businesses in the county to display Blue Backers signs supporting law officers. Van’s obliged. Will responded “absolutely.” In discussing a special treat he soon offered a “very large discount” to Stand T.A.L.L., if its donors bought chocolate. Kauffman said “we appreciate Ron and Celeste stepping up” to help.

Van’s is near Downtown Hendersonville, at 202 Chadwick Ave. Chadwick goes left only from the Greenville Highway, at a traffic light south of Spartanburg Highway then White Street and just past South Rock Grille on the left.

Van’s is short for the Vanderlois family that started the chocolate enterprise in 1968, and later moved it here. Van’s celebrates its 50th anniversary next year. Chocolatier Bryan Vanderlois still works there.

Will Ralston has been a chocolatier since last decade, in 2009 in Melbourne in his native Florida. The Ralstons took over the store on Nov. 24, 2014 after buying it.

They carried on the quality and specific recipes, while adding confectionaries. “The focus has always been on high-end, handmade chocolates, and that’s how it stays,” Will said. He eyes a second local retail store — hopefully within two years.

A bonus is that Celeste like the Vanderlois family grew up in Wisconsin, and as avid Green Bay Packers fans. Will now follows “The Pack.” Celeste grinned when saying common roots was an added attraction of purchasing Van’s.

Valentine’s Day, of course, is a prime candy-selling time. Heart-shaped boxes of candy for Valentine’s Days are by the front window — the site of rotating seasonal items — until selling out perhaps any day now.

Van’s top-seller is a boxed pound of assorted dark and milk chocolates, Will said. Barks and Van’s own chocolate bars are also very popular. Fudge cups are among periodic innovations. Clerk Kathryn Osteen’s favorites are salted caramels and melt-aways. She is 22. Her brother Logan, 16, also works there.

Van’s is also known by many regular customers for its truffles. One end of the store has 35 different truffles, with an amazing assortment of ingredients and flavors. “Healthy” truffles even include anti-oxidants, Celeste noted.

The store’s other end has 24 different types of chocolate-covered nuts. The best seller is almonds, Will said. The Bridge Mix has various nuts.

Next, Van’s is among dozens serving complimentary food and beverage treats at Vintage Carolina March 6. This formal, ticketed event is the Community Foundation of Henderson County’s main fundraiser. It is 6-9 p.m., in Hendersonville Country Club.

Coffee for Cops was in Jonga Java last week. It is next March 13-17 in Mike’s on Main, then in Black Bear Coffee Co. April 10-14.

For more on Van’s, call 697-2120 or check vanschocolates.com. For more on Stand T.A.L.L., call 393-0900 or check www.thankacop.org.

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