For years, anyone visiting Washington, D.C., would, in addition to taking in all the sights, undoubtedly come across The Original Velatis Co. candy store.
Founded by Salvatore Velati, a candymaker who came from Turin, Italy, in the 1850s, The Original Velatis Co. first opened its doors in Richmond, Va.
After that store was destroyed by fire as a casualty of the Civil War, Velati moved his business to downtown Washington, D.C., in 1866, establishing a confectionery heritage that lasted 121 years.
During the turn of the 20th Century, several more The Original Velatis caramel stores were opened in Washington, D.C., thus establishing Velatis caramels as a Washington tradition.
The disappearance of Velatis’ famous caramels in the 1980s left many Washingtonians, including Amy, wishful for their return. In 1996, the Servais family - led by Amy - acquired the rights to the name and recipes, establishing a mail-order business in Florida. Five years later, they left Florida and opened a shop in Maidens, Va.
But it wasn’t until last December that the Servais family decided to establish a retail shop in the Washington metropolitan area, opening a store in Silver Springs, Md., next to the city’s historic post office. Inside, two large vintage photos provide a glimpse of the company’s history and its products.
That history becomes reality when customers sample the caramels, which are made from old European recipes dating back to the early 1800s.
“Today, we continue the tradition of hand-making and hand-cutting the caramels, which are made with the finest and freshest ingredients with no preservatives or artificial ingredients,” Servais says.
Available in a crumbly as well as chewy style, the caramels come in more than 21 different varieties.
“Today, thousands of Velatis customers either come into the store, order via telephone or visit our Web site, www.velatis.com,” Servais says. “We continue to service customers that are sixth generation Velatis caramel lovers.”
What did you think you would be when you grew up?
I signed up for tap, jazz and ballet lessons with my friends at age 12. I just knew that I was going to be a dancer. I eventually realized I was too tall, so then I chose fashion model … then a fashion designer. In high school, I was a member of the swim team and dreamed of the Olympics.
Name one or some of your favorite movies.
I happened to see “Julia Child’s Kitchen” at the Smithsonian and then decided to rent the movie, “Julie and Julia.” I liked it! It really showed how much women have progressed.
Describe your perfect dream vacation.
A trip to Peru’s Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas, located high in the Andes Mountains. I’d love to hike the Inca Trail there, retracing the steps of the ancient Inca civilization.
What book are you currently reading?
“Can You Keep a Secret?” by Sophie Kinsella. She’s the author of the “Confessions of a Shopaholic” series. Besides eating my caramels, this was a recent guilty pleasure.
Aside from a family member, whom would you most want to be stranded with on a desert island?
The Discovery Channel’s “Survivorman,” Les Stroud. Or even better - George Clooney!
What’s your pet peeve?
Poor and/or impolite customer service. Smiles and thank yous are free.
I’d give anything to meet:
My great-grandmother, Amy Gauvreau, whom I was named after. She was also a businesswoman, and owned a rooming house and rented rooms in the 1930s. In the 1960s, she renovated them and made them condos.
I would also like to meet Milton Hershey. He established The Lancaster Caramel Co. in 1883 before Hershey’s.
The best piece of advice I’ve gotten:
“You can do anything you want … just get your education first.” This was from my mother, Carol Servais. She was right!
What excites you about your job?
First, hearing the childhood memories from older customers and what the candy means to them and their family. And secondly, as owner of Velatis, I get to introduce this candy to the next generation of candy lovers.