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Bastrop chocolate business considers future after fire

Addie Broyles
abroyles@statesman.com
Roselly Hendriks greets the Red Cross' Ronald Brooks on Sept. 10 in front of Roscar, the chocolates shop she owns with husband, Frans, center. The couple's home also was destroyed.

Like on any other Sunday afternoon, Frans Hendriks and his wife, Roselly, were talking about bon bons and truffles with customers in their Roscar chocolate shop on Texas 71 east of Bastrop when Frans Hendriks saw smoke from wildfires several miles away.

They quickly ushered the customers out and started moving chocolates to a fridge in the back that could be powered by a generator if the electricity went out.

Before they could finish, the power went out, the generator came on, and suddenly people came running from apartments behind the store and said that another fire was quickly approaching.

"Do you have your recipe book?" Roselly Hendriks asked. With $200 from the cash register in her purse, she went back for the book, and they left everything else behind.

Within a day, the fire would consume everything they owned, including the specialty equipment that Frans Hendriks had acquired, much of it brought from Europe, during more than a decade of chocolate making.

"It is difficult to describe the blackness, the clouds, the fire," the Hendriks, 66, said from the hotel room he and his wife have been staying in for almost two weeks. They had watched from afar as flames finally overtook their home and shop. "We saw flames and smoke rolling over the highway and a big black plume, and I knew at that time that the main building was gone."

The stainless steel tables, the $6,000 display cases, refrigerators, mixers and kettle for tempering chocolate that Hendriks used to make his famous confections were reduced to ash. "You don't see them any more," said Hendriks, a native of Holland who was once the executive chef at the famed Brennan's in New Orleans. "Everything is nothing. There is nothing."

Flags bearing the words "chocolat" still hang on posts near the highway, but the money Roselly Hendriks grabbed from the cash register is quickly dwindling. Frans Hendriks might have his recipe book, but the only kitchen tool he has is a paring knife from H-E-B that he is using to make sandwiches in between meetings with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and insurance workers.

"I tell you, being unemployed and homeless is harder than working daily in the shop," Hendriks said. "My wife is holding up better than me."

When Hendriks talks about the outpouring of support from customers from around the world, Central Texas retailers and other small food businesses, his emotions overwhelm him.

"As far away as Fredericksburg, people have offered for me to come make my products" in their commercial kitchens, Hendriks said. Just this month, Central Market was going to start selling his caramel sea salt bars, but now, he's not sure when he'll be able to fill those orders.

Breed & Co. buyer Cathie McCullar said that the last of the Roscar chocolates, which usually take up half of the candy cases at both Austin stores, is almost gone. "We've had so many people come in who were concerned about him," she said. "It's a real void. He's family."

Hendriks is answering emails from the computer center in the hotel, but he and Roselly Hendriks are waiting until they get more information from the insurance company before deciding exactly what steps to take next. But when Hendriks talks about the future of Roscar, he uses the word "when," not "if."

"I need to get myself set to get things going again," he said. "But I have no doubt in the customers that I had."

abroyles@statesman.com; 912-2504