A (Chocolate Paved) Road to Success

Photo by Kirth Bobb

Darryl Haley photographed in his Luray Virginia home for Virginia Living Magazine

Former NFL star Darryl Haley at his home in Luray.

It’s a long way from South Central Los Angeles to small-town life in Luray. Former New England Patriots offensive lineman and chocolatier Darryl Haley has enjoyed every step of the journey. Today, the 59-year-old is a fitness and lifestyle guru who operates an upscale bed-and-breakfast, where he also creates world-class chocolates, pound cakes, and cookies to help fund regional and national programs for youth, veterans, and military spouses.

Former NFL star Darryl Haley finds pleasure in the sweet things in life.  

It’s a long way from South Central Los Angeles to small-town life in Luray. Former New England Patriots offensive lineman and chocolatier Darryl Haley has enjoyed every step of the journey. Today, the 59-year-old is a fitness and lifestyle guru who operates an upscale bed-and-breakfast, where he also creates world-class chocolates, pound cakes, and cookies to help fund regional and national programs for youth, veterans, and military spouses.

Photo by Kirth Bobb

Judy and Darryl Haley.

An unanticipated detour brought Haley to Virginia. In 2001, while using Skyline Drive to train for a Canary Islands triathlon, he ran low on water, took the Thornton Gap exit, and headed to Luray. “When I came down the mountain and saw the valley, it was the most beautiful landscape and town I’d ever seen,” he says. A few days later, he made a return visit, first by himself and later with his wife, Judy. They became part-time residents a few months later and relocated full time in 2017.  

Haley says his journey to the NFL and beyond was fueled by “chocolate and science.” At age 8, he decided to bake his mother a birthday cake, so he sold some soda bottles that he found and used the proceeds to buy a Betty Crocker lemon cake mix and a can of frosting. “I was so proud to give it to her,” he recalls with his trademark laugh. “You could not have told me it was not the best cake ever made.” Eventually he made baked goods from scratch and modified cookbook recipes. And he discovered the great love of his life: chocolate. Over time, Haley perfected an array of delectable cookies, cakes, and bonbons. “My mother always said that it’s fine to use someone else’s recipe, but it’s better when you add your own touch and create with your own passion, love, and identity,” he says. 

Photo courtesy of Darryl Haley

Darryl Haley during his playing days with the New England Patriots.

Haley credits the fundamentals he learned in the kitchen to the beginnings of his fascination with science—the properties of liquids, solids, and gasses, as well as chemical interactions—which he pursued with a passion. Something of a child prodigy, he enrolled at the University of Utah at age 15. Putting baking aside but continuing his fascination with science, he concentrated on chemistry and human physiology, as well as athletics. He never expected to be drafted into the NFL and was in the gym playing basketball with friends when the news came: At 19, he was the 55th pick for the New England Patriots. 

In Boston, the home of “the best baked goods in the world,” the kitchen helped Haley socialize with older teammates, who routinely stopped by to sample his chocolate chip and oatmeal-raisin cookies—plus an occasional cheesecake. “I was too young to go out to the clubs,” Haley says, “but I wanted to have fun. So I baked.” 

Haley used science to hone his athletic performance. “I watched replays of other players to see where I could angle my run, intercept them a little differently based on what they did, see where I could shave off fractions of seconds.” Haley credits science—plus good choices and decisions—for becoming a formidable competitor on the playing field and in life. “I made decisions—working out, practicing, eating healthy—to enhance my performance. I made choices—who to associate with and where to go—to ensure that my life went in the direction I wanted.” 

After six years on the field, Haley retired to become a corporate fitness trainer and was named by Vogue as one of the country’s top 50 trainers. A regular on the Steve Harvey Show on Washington’s WHUR Radio, he focused on fitness and lifestyle. In 2002, he and Judy opened their five-room B&B set on a hill overlooking Luray. “I opened the B&B because I love people,” he says. “Plus, I get to watch them smile when they eat my baked goods and chocolates.” He offers fitness weekends for professionals. The B&B is also perfect for people who want time to recharge or enjoy the Shenandoah Valley.  

Photo by Kirth Bobb

Haley’s chocolate bonbons.

“But my passion was baking,” Haley says. Eager to give back to the community, he donates the proceeds of his baked goods sales to assist veterans and in-need spouses of deployed soldiers. His Music at the Monument, an annual concert series on the National Mall (canceled for 2020 due to COVID-19), features genres including country, rock, and R&B, and provides music therapy and other activities to assist veterans and their families. “His programs give veterans and spouses a sense of belonging, community, and love,” says Gigi Spearman, a retired lieutenant colonel and director of the CES Leadership Foundation in Dumfries. “This is particularly important for individuals transitioning to civilian life and who miss the strong sense of belonging they experienced during active duty.” 

Today, as a community leader in Luray and Page County, Haley works with schools and community organizations. “In life, we are all given gifts,” he says. “If we use them, not to compete against each other, but to help everyone grow and enhance the lives of those around us, that’s what makes life beautiful.” 

Recently, Haley felt that his life had gone full circle. He gave a science demonstration—as a baking lesson—at a local elementary school. The students learned about science while they baked (and then ate) a chocolate cake. Several said that it was the best cake they’d ever tasted.

DarrylHaleyBnB.com


This article originally appeared in our October 2020  issue.

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