WILMINGTON -- Virginia Chocolate Company founder and CEO Tim Douglas was back in town for a high school reunion when he went into North Star Bowl to grab a burger.
"I hadn't been up there in 25 years," he said.
The bowling alley and restaurant's owner, Steve Butler, recognized Douglas. He also recalled some memories, as Douglas had gone to school with Butler's stepson.
Douglas was back for his class' 25th reunion. It was also the last reunion to be held in the Wilmington facility, most recently known as Twin Valley High School. When Douglas attended, it was known as the Wilmington High School.
Butler showed him some photos from Tropical Storm Irene. He has since rebuilt North Star Bowl with a large amount of assistance from the community.
"I kind of said to him, 'Wow, you're a better businessman than me.' I'm not sure I would have rebuilt," said Douglas. "That was such a tragedy up there."
Douglas began his chocolate enterprise 10 years ago after leaving his position as an attorney representing collection agencies.
"It really wasn't the life for me," he said. "You'd sue people for bills they have no money to pay. That was the worst part."
Douglas told the Reformer he only misses his life in law when someone says, "I'll sue you."
"I immediately jump into that mood and want to go to court," he said. "I still help out with immigration cases and minor things. I help people out with divorces and stuff like that.
While having a burger at North Star, Butler showed an interest in carrying Virginia Chocolate Company products and told Douglas to send him some samples. Last month, North Star began carrying the products. It became the first store to sell the chocolate that is not located in the tri-state mid-Atlantic region.
Douglas' chocolate making began in Vermont, where he'd eventually like to move back to. He recalled his employment at a restaurant called Le Petit Chef, which Betty Hillman owned it at the time.
"We were playing around in the kitchen one day and she taught me how to temper chocolate," he said. "That got me into it."
Although chocolate was not sold at that restaurant, Douglas continued making it as gifts and for special occasions.
Currently, Douglas has 60 wholesale accounts and has granted the franchise to another person. He still remains very active in the actual production end of the operation.
"I'm real hands-on," Douglas said. "Since I'm the founder, everything goes through me before it goes out the door for a quality check. It's my baby."
The chocolate is made in Stafford, Va. There are 20 employees involved in its production during the winter and two during the summer.
According to Butler, everyone who has tasted the chocolate at North Star has really enjoyed it. There are five different flavors available at his establishment, where he has been in business for 35 years.
After Irene, all new refrigeration, cooking appliances, bowling lanes, flooring, walls, insulation, wiring as well as heating and cooling appliances were needed. At one point in November 2011, the crew responsible for rebuilding North Star believed they would have some warmth a day after they had finally put in a heating appliance. When they walked in the next morning, the ceiling had fallen in due to moisture collected in the attic.
The cleaning process began all over again.
"I didn't cry. But for a couple seconds, I wanted to fall on my knees," Butler said. "I started laughing and my partner asked, 'Why are you laughing?' I said, 'Now, we're going to have a new ceiling.'"
North Star still has four or five years before Butler believes it will be completely rebuilt. However, the establishment is 100 percent functional, he said.
The additional work includes soundproofing the building to the capacity it was at before, finishing some interior trim and getting a second coat of paint on some walls. The rear of the building and a work area room also will be rebuilt.
The mini-golf complex housed outside was rebuilt during the spring of 2012. Once it is completely upgraded, Butler says it will be one of the nicest mini-golf courses in the state and quite possibly in New England.
"It's coming out much better than it ever was before the flood but there's still a lot of work to be done out there," he added.
The Friends of the Deerfield Valley were crucial in getting North Star reopened. The non-profit organization established to assist after Irene donated over $70,000 of products to rebuild North Star, including light bulbs, fixtures, paint, primer and leather couches. Another $90,000 in cash was given to North Star through fundraising efforts.
A member of the organization, who owns a construction company in New York City, sent 25 employees up to assist one weekend at no charge, Butler told the Reformer.
"No one should expect to be given that much in 10 lifetimes with a disaster in each lifetime. I'm the most grateful, humble and thankful person in the whole world," said Butler. "I couldn't possibly give back enough to the community I live in because of how much they've given me."
Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.