It began during Prohibition… a time very different from which we now live. Frank Ratcliffe, a dapper and handsome young man with a quick smile, recognized a need within the community and sought to fill it. (Okay, let’s face it: he was a bootlegger). Frank delivered beverages that where in high demand, sort of an early version of FedEx. BUT the challenges were very different than delivery services of today; using highly modified Ford Model A cars, a typical delivery often wound through city streets and country roads with at least one law enforcement vehicle in hot pursuit.
Many versions of alcoholic beverages were available during prohibition. “Bathtub Gin” became popular, and not many people realize that it was legal to make up to 200 gallons of wine at home during that time (and it still is legal today!) “Moonshine”, or spirits distilled mostly from corn in hidden stills located deep in obscure locations, became popular as the commercial production of whiskey ceased. Ever the one to meet the needs of the community, Frank became an expert in all types of alcoholic beverages, from homemade wines to moonshine to different versions of classic distilled spirits.
Frank and his wife Velma lived a wonderful life for the next 27 years. Unfortunately, he passed away suddenly in 1977. A couple of years after his death, Velma went to her son Del, who at the time was still living with her at their home near UNCC. The main family business was a golf course that Frank had built and was known as Paradise Valley Golf Course. She told Del that “Daddy had buried something on the property, and we need to find it.” Knowing the stories about his father’s past only added to the mystery as she insisted that they dig for “it” at night. At 2 AM on a warm summer night, while his mother held the flashlight, Del dug where his mother told him – 4 bricks in, and 3 steps out from the corner of the family brick barbeque. After about 20 minutes of digging, Velma became nervous and insisted that they stop digging – and cover up any signs that they had been out that night. Over the course of the next couple of years, she would get up her nerve and decide to look in a different place. Frank’s “secret” remained buried.
In 1984, the property was sold. Two weeks before the closing, Del decided that the suspense was too much – he had to find the buried secret. The only way to do that was to dig deeper… he told his mother that he intended to use a crawler loader to dig until he found what his father had left. She agreed to let him do it under one condition: it had to be done at night, under the cover of darkness. SO, once again, at 2:00 AM, they set out digging. This time, rather than a shovel, a 1 yard bucket on heavy equipment would do the work. As Del operated the loader, Velma directed him on where to dig with a flashlight. The loader strained as the bucket entered the ground for the first time. As the bucket lifted from the earth, Del could see the flashlight suddenly waving frantically back and forth; the secret had been found. In the rich soil of Mecklenburg County they found seven mason jars, covered in aluminum foil. They held Frank’s legacy –recipes and knowledge he had gleaned from years of “meeting the needs” of his customers and friends.
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