Rock Hill chocolate festival features treats for a good cause

jzou@heraldonline.comNovember 3, 2013 

— The smell of chocolate wafted through the halls of Baxter Hood Center in Rock Hill on Sunday afternoon as residents streamed inside to sample decadent sweets and a get a head start on holiday shopping.

The fifth annual Decadent Dreams Chocolate Festival and Fall Market featured more than 30 vendors, mostly local, to benefit Keystone Substance Abuse Services – the county’s nonprofit substance abuse authority.

“We wanted to find an event that’s fun for the whole family,” said Janet Martini, the agency’s executive director.

Martini said Keystone staff came together five years ago to devise a fundraiser that would be both distinctive and alcohol-free. What they came up with was a chocolate-filled afternoon that has continued to grow every year and now includes several demonstrations, candy-themed contests, and even an area where families can pose behind a green screen to get their photos taken with oversized Hershey’s Syrup bottles.

“Who doesn’t love chocolate?” Martini said. The event raised $15,000 last year and Martini hopes to up that figure to $20,000 this year.

Proceeds from ticket and vendor sales as well a silent auction will go toward funding rehabilitative and counseling services. Keystone provides addiction services to residents regardless of their ability to pay.

The event also included two flowing fondue fountains, chocolate-colored balloons, and a Willy Wonka-themed soundtrack. Residents also got to sample carafes of hot sipping chocolates, chocolate truffles and bits of cheesecake.

Jessica Cook, 27, was among several small business owners hoping to use the event as a way to promote their brands. Cook, the owner of Cake Couture in Lancaster, which specializes in custom cakes, was showcasing a mock tiered cake and selling specialty cupcakes like the Muddy Pig, a bacon, chocolate and coffee laden dessert.

“It’s a good breakfast,” Cook joked. she said events like the festival are a way for her to increase visibility and also make direct sales. Cook also baked a two-tiered Reese’s Cup cake for the event’s silent auction.

Another business owner was Mary Kate McManus, 33, of Hey Sugar Shop, currently located out of her Rock Hill home. McManus specializes in custom-designed sugar cookies and a confection she calls “cake truffles” – which are like cake pops minus the sticks.

“It gives me a chance to connect,” said McManus, who relies on word-of-mouth and events like the festival to gain new clients. McManus plans to open a storefront in Lake Wylie.

Kate Rabun, 34, of Fort Mill, first volunteered at the festival three years ago at the recommendation of a friend who works at Keystone, but continued to come back once she realized how fun it could be.

Rabun, an accountant, took a larger role this year by helping to plan the event and was overseeing the silent auction table on Sunday afternoon, which included more than 40 items up for bid like autographed footballs, a stay in Charleston, and even a stainless steel Gamecock statue.

“You can’t go wrong with chocolate,” said Rabun, who said she and other organizers hope to keep the event locally-focused. They also hope to draw a younger crowd. Her favorite part of the event? “The sampling.”

The event was a fun way for the county’s younger residents such as 12-year-old Alex Adams to spend a Sunday.

“Do your cheeks hurt too?” Alex asked a fellow contestant in a marshmallow stuffing contest who came in second place with seven marshmallows. Alex won first place by stuffing 12 marshmallows in his mouth at once – no small feat for someone who doesn’t like marshmallows.

He immediately spit them out once he found out he won. He then set his sights on a chocolate pie-eating contest.

The event also included non-food vendors including local jewelry makers and home goods businesses.

Said Martini: “It’s the community supporting the community.”

Jie Jenny Zou •  803-329-4062

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