For most people, the month of April heralds the first daffodils of the season and the promise of warmer weather. In Lewisburg April means chocolate, lots of chocolate. Saturday, April 14th marked the 12th Annual Lewisburg Chocolate Festival, and, once again, Lewisburg showed why it ranks on national lists as a top festival destination.
This year, the weather, which can sometimes make or break the early-spring festival, was sunny and warm, the sort of day that beckons locals and tourists alike to the streets. Festival organizers estimate the crowd size at close to 5,000 people. Tasting tickets sold out Saturday morning before the official start time of the event.
In total, 36,535 tasting tickets were sold, equating to $36,535 in ticket sales. Visitors wandered among the 37 tasting locations that stretched to every corner of historic downtown Lewisburg. Chocolate and confection companies, local businesses, and non-profits served 35,800 individual tastings.
Some tastings, like the Wild Bean Coffee Shop’s espresso brownies, have become popular mainstays of the festival.
While new businesses and festival partners ensure there is always something different to discover. Case in point, The Escape Hotel, a new boutique hotel located adjacent to The Asylum Restaurant offered dark chocolate covered lemonade buttercream truffles by Baylee’s Best Chocolates. They quickly became a favorite of the day.
The Greenbrier Sporting Club’s grand display and tasting station located inside Harmony Ridge Gallery is a popular attraction each year. Early Saturday morning, visitors lined up to experience the sights and tastes of the region’s preeminent pastry chefs. Geodes, hollow crystalline rocks, were the theme of the Club’s tasting station. The edible display was made entirely from sugar and chocolate, but many visitors thought the crystals were real.
Clay Elkins, director of food and beverage at the Greenbrier Sporting Club credits Pastry Chef Alyssa Mayo with the unique concept: “Chef Mayo is an artist and she has such vision for what is essentially edible art.”
Aaron Maxwell, owner of Harmony Ridge Gallery, is eager to welcome the Greenbrier Sporting Club’s team back each year. For him, it’s a perfect fit. He says, “The focus of our business has always been to represent the work of creative people. We love highlighting the Club’s unique culinary artistry. It’s a natural extension of what we’re all about.”
Live chef demonstrations are another festival draw. This year, Chef Yvonne Ortiz-Galarza of Sanctuary Living Cuisine and Chef Amy Mills of Amy’s Cakes and Cones each presented to full houses. Chair of the Lewisburg Chocolate Festival committee and executive director of the United Way of Greenbrier Valley, Erin Hurst says, “We were so proud to have two stellar female chefs this year.”
Hurst adds, “There’s so much more to enjoy at the festival than chocolate. We have live music at the Green Space, a free movie at the Lewis Theatre, street performances, and a children's read-aloud with a free book for each child. A person could literally not have one bite of chocolate and still enjoy a full day at the Lewisburg Chocolate Festival. Of course, we recommend trying the chocolate, too.”
Lewisburg mayor John Manchester, an eternal good sport, dons a Willy Wonka costume each year, a fitting master of ceremonies for the chocolate affair.
"The Lewisburg Chocolate Festival kicks off springtime and the busy tourist season for our town. It's a wonderful boost for our small businesses after the quiet, late-winter months and the funds raised benefit many local charities. This event continues to be a win all around," says Mayor Manchester.
The United Way of Greenbrier Valley was the charity partner of the Lewisburg Chocolate Festival for the 5th consecutive year. The non-profit netted $26,868.82 after event expenses were paid. Ticket sales are not the sole source of income for the festival. Sponsorship dollars totaling $9,153.98 offset many of the expenses, enabling the event to operate as a fundraiser.
The generous sponsors of the 2018 Lewisburg Chocolate Festival include:
MedExpress, WVNS 59News, Ron Magruder, Shoney’s, Kilcollin Dental, Greenbrier Valley Medical Center, Employee Benefit Services, Chapman Technical Group, American Beer Company/Runyon Family, U.S. Cellular, Fritz’s Pharmacy & Wellness Center, High Country Boutique, Studio 40, Barnwood Living, Commercial Insurance, Cindy Bowe, and Homestead Creamery
Hurst also extends an enormous thank you to the members of the 2018 Festival Committee, adding, “The Chocolate Festival would be absolutely impossible without the hard work, support and guidance of the committee.”
Committee members include, in addition to Chair, Erin Hurst: Aaron Maxwell, Monica Maxwell, Sally Lane, Annamarie Visclosky, Cindy Lavender-Bowe, Jen Runyon, Missy VanBuren, Susan McCormack, Larry Levine, Barbara Phillips, John Manchester, and Mary Cole Deitz.
For more information about the Lewisburg Chocolate Festival, visit LewisburgChocolateFestival.com. Mark your calendar now for next year: April 13, 2019. For more information on participation, sponsorship and volunteer opportunities contact Erin Hurst at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credits: Connie Manchester & The Greenbrier Sporting Club