Enjoy chocolates like royalty, or should I say, the same chocolates as royalty!

No, you don’t have to cross the pond or even send away. You can simply take the 10-minute drive from downtown south into Oakwood and find Madame Delluc. Madame Delluc is an artisan chocolatier and also a Belgian Royal Warrant Holder.

Now, what does all of that mean? Well, I had the chance to sit down with Françoise Walusis, president and CEO of Françoise Imports, the American distributor of Madame Delluc chocolates, to learn more.

Françoise, born in Belgium into a diplomatic family, learned to enjoy fine chocolates at an early age. She fondly remembers times in Brussels where they would visit Mary’s Artisanal Chocolates, owned by Marie Delluc. Marie (who referred to herself as Mary) was the first female chocolatier in Belgium. She devoted her life to chocolate.

Belgian chocolates are known specifically for a couple things. The Praline, which is not what we Americans know as a praline, is a chocolate shell with a soft filling invented by Jean Neuhaus in 1912. One such filling is praliné filling, which is a paste made of hazelnuts or almonds. Another is the ganache filling, which is the soft center of a Praline involving warm preparation usually mixed with other flavors like raspberry, cinnamon or coffee. The third, mousse, is a fluffy filling—a result of whipping the chocolate while it is cold.

These chocolates are often enjoyed by and given as gifts by appointment of the Belgian Royal Family. In fact, Madame Delluc is one of six chocolatiers that are holders of the Royal Warrant.

Françoise says that there are 2,000 chocolate shops in Belgium and that chocolates are a special treat. Having experienced this as a child, Françoise wants the children of the Miami Valley to share in that same great experience.

Françoise came to Dayton (well, Springfield) for college. While here she met John who would become her husband and together decided that Dayton (specifically Oakwood) was the perfect place to open a Belgian chocolate shop. John, with an MBA and experience writing business plans, put together a plan for just that. Together with a letter from Françoise (introducing her and explaining her background and appreciation for Belgian chocolates) they were able to catch the eye of the owner of Madame Delluc and start conversations about opening the first Madame Delluc outside of Belgium.

After a number of meetings and training sessions, they managed to secure the exclusive distributorship of Madame Delluc chocolates in the United States. This is not a franchise—they were adamant about that—but in fact is a locally owned business selling fine Belgian chocolates.

When asked “Why Oakwood?” John and Françoise said that was simple: first, they live here but more importantly, with the foot traffic and the small shop environment, Oakwood felt like a little bit of Europe and a perfect place to allow the community to experience this taste of European history.

These chocolates are made in Brussels with the same standards and detailed specifications that were put into place in 1919.

The shop itself looks like those in Belgium. The furnishings are all similar to those used in the European shops. The chandelier is from Paris, the drapes are from Germany and the fixtures are from France. All of this lends itself to the experience of artisanal chocolates that can be enjoyed right here in Dayton.

Francoise, John and Brian (the retail manager) all said that this is an affordable luxury and one that is not to be missed.

Chocolates range in price from 50 cents for chocolate Napolitain that include things like salted caramel and coffee flavors, to $1.95 for each praline or truffle. A four-piece box can be purchased (with your choice of pralines) for $11.95 and the 20-piece box for $49.50, with many size options in between. Or simply stop by and enjoy a single piece like Françoise did as a child.

While this may seem higher than we Daytonians are used to paying for local chocolates, these chocolates are very different and come in keepsake boxes.

For the dark chocolate lover there is a 98 percent dark chocolate. For the dark chocolate lover that isn’t sure that 98 percent is right, you can order a “flight” of chocolates: “The Lady 1, 2, 3 and 4” range from 48 percent, 58 percent, 68 percent and 78 percent. This allows you to taste them all.

There are milk chocolates, too, with fillings like raspberry, coffee and even salted caramel.

There is also a tasting room where private tastings can be held for up to four people. You can learn the history, enjoy a tasting and a cup of coffee, tea or sparkling water. A perfect afternoon or anytime!

There is an online store as well where you can place an order for delivery. Standard FedEx three-day delivery is available or you can opt for overnight. Browse the selections at francoiseimports.com or, better yet, stop in the store and enjoy!