by Audrey Knapp
photos by Josh Triggs
Is all chocolate really the same? No, it isn’t! In fact, there’s an incredible difference when you compare big label chocolates to the lovingly-crafted products of ambitious, visionary and brave chocolatiers.
These are small business owners who dare to open their shops in the face of global competition, economic woes, and a cultural attitude inclined toward paying as little as possible regardless of the level of quality of a product or service.
Brenda Casabona of DeFluri’s Fine Chocolates is one of these brave spirits, maintaining a thriving business built on the desire to provide carefully crafted chocolates and candies to her favorite community.
Passion and dedication really are by Audrey Knapp photos by Josh Triggs what sets Brenda apart from the crowd. By trade, she was an International Economist with an extensive education and a great career that took her to Europe. During a stint in London, the generous vacation time offered by her employer found her in need of a hobby. After having access to such an extensive variety of chocolates available in Europe, she decided to begin experimenting with it in her free time.
That was a critical point in her life as a chocolatier – it gave her the opportunity to learn about chocolate, and how it reacts and pairs with different ingredients. It also instilled her with a passion for the innate complexity of chocolate and the delicious moments of joy that it can bring to people.
Upon her return to the United States, she found herself in a job which she called “boring,” and decided she wanted a career change. Yet, she didn’t want just any career change – she wanted to do something that she could really enjoy, something that excited her, something she could be passionate about.
After some in-depth market research and intense personal and professional preparation, Brenda opened her first business, as both a bakery and fine chocolate maker, in Vienna, Va. She hired a staff and began producing and selling her chocolates in 1985.
Her very first employee was Charlie Casabona. While she had the indepth knowledge of chocolate, she really needed someone who had manufacturing experience. They were a complementary pair, and from their passion for chocolate and dedication to always doing their best, they grew a love between one another that led to marriage.
Today they still work hand-inhand, each taking care and responsibility for different aspects of the business so that everything will work well together. They moved to the heart of downtown Martinsburg after tiring of the big city bustle that comes with the D.C. area. A small town feel is what they love, and when they saw their building, they knew it was just right.
With a real vision for potential, they made the most of the 12,000-squarefoot space which formerly housed a McCroy’s Five and Dime. They kept some of the store’s original floors and other fixtures in place – anything that they could manage to still use. Brenda and Charlie enjoyed the exciting journey of converting it to house their entire business: manufacturing, packaging and their retail storefront.
It’s that old-time feeling, the spirit of those former main street glories, that inspires Brenda in her business and approach to the community. A time when main street was bright, alive, and thriving; when people greeted new neighbors into their communities; when they met other married couples out for dancing and bowling; and when they still really appreciated the importance and value of quality, local products created with passion.
The Casabona family brings those ideals to life in their business. They love the area, and they believe in the potential of historic downtown Martinsburg.
“I think Martinsburg is a fine place to do business,” Brenda states proudly. She believes that the right combination of dedicated businesses could reinvigorate it, and make it bright and thriving once again. In that spirit, she has maintained great pride in the downtown area and pride in her own business success. Today, DeFluri’s Fine Chocolates is a full-line chocolate confectioner which offers retail, wholesale, and contract business to the local community and the world at large – along with the help of the internet.
While Brenda loves to experiment with recipes, she always ensures that her customers’ favorites are always in stock so she can to cater to DeFluri’s devoted customers. Consistency in taste and quality is of the utmost importance to Brenda. She wholeheartedly believes in providing only the best and maintaining the heart of her business: great chocolate. Striving for that ideal has won a loyal following for DeFluri’s – these are customers who come every Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter or anniversary.
They know that when they go to DeFluri’s, they’re going to get the best chocolate for a great price; that it’s going to be consistent in recipe, and created with the highest concern for taste and quality.
“We have a great product,” Brenda explains. She emphasizes that this kind of quality cannot be bought at your local grocer or gas station, even with the so-called “fine chocolate” brands. The difference between nationally-available chocolates which can be bought in any grocer and those created by real, local chocolatiers is all in the taste; high quality ingredients result in high quality products.
The problem with big-label chocolates is that the focus is more on profit than quality. A good chocolatier is able to balance the necessity of profit with the passion for great recipes utilizing the best ingredients they can obtain. With those big-label chocolates, they get the cheapest ingredients possible to fulfill their recipes and there isn’t any room for the passion required to make great tasting chocolate which can even begin to compare with what is available in Europe.
Luckily, due to the throngs of devoted followers who have tasted real chocolate, chocolatiers like the Casabonas are able to make a business of doing what they really love – and provide us with chocolate that is on par with what is available abroad.
As more locals learn about DeFluri’s and web orders grow, their production continues to increase. They employ five people year round, and hire additional staff seasonally to support production and sales.
“We offer specialty products; we’re a destination business,” Brenda explains in regard to seasonal highs and lows. Although it’s not an everyday luxury, it’s a wonderful treat – just like chocolates are meant to be: special, occasional treats. There are 80 varieties of chocolates in the showcases alone, and well over 300 kinds of chocolate and candies in the store. Among the favorites are the Christmas Truffles, Sea Salt Caramels, American Style Cremes, European Style Truffles, Marzipan, and Boxed Chocolates containing an assortment of the best sellers.
From the truffles, Brenda’s favorites are the Mocha Truffle, Wine Truffle, Passion Fruit, and the Lemon Meringue Pie Truffle with a White Chocolate center.
The traditional chocolates showcase include more of her favorites: the Maple Creams, Peppermint Creams, Candied Ginger Root and the Chocolate-covered Orange Peels. Another favorite: the Monastery Truffles, are produced for the Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Va. DeFluri’s also offers Creamed Honey produced by the Monastery.
Brenda wanted to ensure that as many people as possible could experience the joy of great chocolate, and so she infused her large selection of chocolates with a sugar-free line for those who live with diabetes or hyperglycemia. This specially created selection includes a variety of truffles, Chocolate-covered Cherries, Chocolate-covered Marshmallows, Peppermint Creams and Espresso Truffles.
Hearkening back to that old-time feeling of main street’s glory days, Brenda orders in high quality specialty candies. Find the most traditional in “Grandma’s Candy Dish,” and other kinds such as chocolate-covered gummy worms and pretzels that are on display throughout the store.
Have the Casabonas thought of everything? Considering they also produce a line of vegan chocolates using chocolate imported from Belgium, it seems they really have! It’s time to take a trip downtown. Visit the main street and envision what it was like 50 years ago, and what it could be in the future. Stop by DeFluri’s for a delectable journey – a taste of tradition perfectly balanced with the challenges and opportunities provided in modern times. It’s an opportunity for a small town to have access to incredible chocolates, above the quality of large manufacturers, and below the prices of the usual “fine chocolates” mall vendors.
“Chocolate may look the same,” Brenda emphasizes, “But there is such a huge difference in the quality and flavors. It is well worth the trip!” If you want something special for a special occasion, this is the place to get it. Special isn’t available everywhere but it is available right in the heart of historic downtown Martinsburg.