As Lent begins, Valos Chocolates gears up for busiest time of the year
They never give up chocolate here.
Especially during Lent, which, beyond its religious aspects, is the run up to Easter, the busiest holiday of the year for Valos Chocolates in Arnold, according to owner and chief chocolatier John Mandak.
At the company’s factory on Fifth Avenue, gallons of molten chocolate swirl in vats. Assorted nuts, nougats and other sweet things await dipping.
Sheets of caramels are rolled smooth then cut into cubes. Rich fudge is weighed, then formed into eggs.
Easter bunnies are lined up like rows of soldiers in parade formation. Bins of other molded chocolate treats await delivery at area stores and up the hill to Valos’ store on Freeport Road.
There are trains, puppies, robots, guitars, dog bones, trolls, ballerinas, light bulbs and even teeth. Valos produces more than 50,000 molded chocolates each year, ranging in weight from one ounce to 10 pounds, plus a score of other goodies.
“It’s silly. It’s kind of cool,” Mandak said of searching for new molds that people will enjoy buying. “You just look for something you know that’s going to come out nice. You just find things that are neat.”
Mandak has been in the business for more than three decades. He bought Valos House of Candy in 1986 from Theodore Vasilopus, who founded Valos in 1947.
Vasilopus worked alongside Mandak, teaching him the trade in a move that Mandak said was “purely by accident.”
He’d worked in the restaurant business and was looking to open an eatery when he heard Valos was available.
“I said ‘What the heck, let’s give it a try’,” Mandak said. “And then, once I got into it, it just became totally consuming.”
Now, it’s a sweet deal that Mandak said he thanks God for daily.
“It’s satisfying. Everybody’s happy to see you. Everybody’s happy to enjoy our product,” Mandak said. “It’s enjoyable coming to work.”
He has a staff of 24 employees and no one complains about their line of work — many have been there for decades, he said.
They include Angie Mayher and Comet McCorkendale, who were busy Tuesday molding french cream Easter eggs.
It’s something both said they enjoy — along with sampling the treats they produce.
Peanut butter meltaways are Mayher’s favorite while McCorkendale enjoys sea salt caramels, they said.
Mandak said he’s thankful that Easter falls late this year — April 21. Preparation poses a challenge when Lent begins closer to Valentine’s Day.
“Easter’s our busiest time of the year. Christmas is second and Valentine’s would be third in the group,” he explained. “I’m certainly happy (Easter) is late this year, it helps out. We buy extra weeks of working time. Once Thanksgiving comes, it’s just like a blur all the way until Easter Sunday.”
He works 12-hour days, six days a week during this time of year and part of his daily routine is to sample the product, so there’s never been a time when he’s given up chocolate for Lent.
“I’m going to have to talk to the Pope about that one. Giving up chocolate doesn’t count,” Mandak said.
Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, [email protected] or via Twitter .