A Loudoun chocolatier has expanded her local empire to include a new Leesburg location.
Andrea Howard and her Veritas Artizen Chocolates now have the larger production space, with their recent opening in the former Hershey’s Shake Shop space at 700 Fieldstone Drive #114, along Battlefield Parkway.
It’s the second time in a little over a year that Howard has taken over a former ice cream shop space. After her former Purcellville space went up for sale last year, and following a brief stint at ChefScape in Leesburg, Howard was on the hunt for a space that she did not need to totally recreate. When Jr’s Soft Serve and Italian Ice went up for sale on Ashburn Road, it was the perfect opportunity.
She opened the space as HoneyBee Creamery, selling Hershey’s and Jack & Jill ice cream, Italian ices, her custom fruit bouquets, and a limited supply of her Veritas Chocolates line. More recently, the Ashburn shop added liquid nitrogen ice cream to its offerings.
“Luckily before I left Purcellville, I made 25 to 30 pounds of chocolate, so I didn’t have to make chocolate for a good while. We just kind of kept the ice cream shop going through the winter [of 2019] and really kind of hanging on with the fruit bouquets. That’s a model that seems to be pretty successful. You have the high time in the spring and summer for the ice cream, and in the low season for ice cream you flip and have high seasons of chocolate and fruit bouquets. That’s what got us through the last year really well,” she said.
The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic provided an opportunity for some introspection, but Howard quickly pivoted her business model to offer online ordering, curbside pickup, and delivery.
“I’m not exaggerating to say there was many a night I’d put a sign on the door, put some ice cream in a bag and run down the street to deliver in the 20147 ZIP code,” she said.
Community support, and her popular ice cream party packs, were key to survival for her company, she said.
As she navigated her businesses throughout the summer months, Howard became aware of the exit of the former Hershey’s Shake Shop owners, who were taking their business fully mobile.
“We jumped in with some rapid negotiations with the landlord. We signed the lease on Thursday, we were open on Saturday,” Howard.
Talks with Hershey’s were just as swift, with Howard signing an agreement to run a Hershey’s Ice Cream program in the shop.
“That just means we’re bound to buy their ice cream, but we can do anything else with the shop that we want,” Howard said.
And a big need for Howard was the ample production space offered in the shop, almost twice as big as the space in Ashburn, so she can grow her Veritas Chocolates business.
“Adding chocolate is a value add for the shop,” she said. “Our intention is to make it like a craft chocolate production space for people to see [chocolate being made]. We can do mini tours, classes, date nights. It’s much more of an event type of space and a destination than just a shop.”
The larger space also offers an educational opportunity for her customers, Howard said, and pointed to local residents’ curiosity and interest in seeing and understanding the process for craft brewing, distilling and winemaking.
“We love educating people about chocolate. It’s part of the vision for this space in Leesburg. It’s chocolate production but it’s also going to be educating and teaching people about chocolate, where it comes from, how it’s grown, who are these farmers growing it. Most people love chocolate but don’t even think about it,” she said.
It’s the craft nature of Veritas’ chocolate making that makes it unique from larger, international producers.
“It’s very, very labor intensive. It’s very hands on. Because of that it sometimes can be a little more rustic, too, because of the craft nature of it. If you were looking at a truffle that I might do versus something of that of a very high-end chocolate company, theirs might look more polished, pizzazzed. Mine might look more handmade. They’re just two totally different things.
“Theirs is good in their way; ours is different because of the chocolate we make. It’s so pure. Seventy percent chocolate is just cacao and sugar; I don’t add soy or stabilizers,” she said.
Veritas’ specialties run the gamut from bark to truffles to chocolate covered bacon and chocolate bars. Howard also has a hard time keeping her handmade hot chocolate bombs on the shelves, especially this time of year. She is starting to ramp up chocolate production for the Christmas season and her two biggest holidays of the year, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.
Going forward, Howard said she plans to keep her HoneyBee Creamery shops in both Ashburn and Leesburg up and running, with Veritas Chocolates offered at both stores.