William Byrd Rawlings made great chocolate sauce. So good, in fact, that his daughter, Ann Colby, wanted only one thing after he died -- the recipe. She'd helped take care of her father while he was sick and her mother wanted to give her something to say thank you.
"I know that sounds silly," says Ann Colby's daughter Scottie Phillips, "but my mom is a good cook, and she noticed that the sauce doesn't separate."
They've been making it for years, giving it away as Christmas gifts to friends and teachers. They received so many thank-you notes raving about their sauce that Colby and her daughters started to think about doing something bigger.
Inspired by the story of another local entrepreneur, Steve Kim, maker of KimKim sauce, the three got in touch with Virginia Beach's Willard Asburn of Ashburn Sauce Co. They struck a deal to start bottling their Willie Byrd Dark Chocolate Sauce. Conveniently, Helen Lohmar, Colby's other daughter, lives in Virginia Beach and could serve as point person on the manufacturing end.
"We've had plenty of stops and starts," Phillips says. There was a mistake on the label, and then they had a hard time finding a top to fit the jars they'd ordered. "I was shocked. I mean, a straight, round jar," she says, "and the tops do not all transfer. It's a whole new language and it's a whole new learning curve."
They also had a problem finding chocolate. The company that they ordered it from informed them on the day that it was supposed to be delivered that it didn't carry that chocolate anymore. "We had to regroup and my mom was distraught."
Colby went to dinner that night with friends, and it turned out that one of them used to work for Performance Food Group. He still had contacts in the food industry and was able to get them in touch with someone who could solve their chocolate problem. "We've had a lot of fantastic, fortuitous luck," Phillips says.
They produced their first run in August 2013, and you can now find Willie Byrd's chocolate sauce in Whole Foods, Fresh Market and Libbie Market. And they've expanded the line to include chocolate peppermint, sea-salt-caramel chocolate and espresso chocolate.
"As my mom says, 'It's a great way to retire,'" Phillips says. "She's having some fun."williebyrdsauce.com.
CORRECTION: This story was originally titled "Chocolate Cravings." We didn't realize that was the name of another local business. We regret the error.