It’s time to pull those comfy sweatpants out of storage. You know, the really stretchy ones.
What started out in 2008 as a family-friendly fundraiser for the Museum of the North Beach has evolved into a massive boost for the broader community: Chocolate on the Beach. The annual festival continues its expansion this year with 13 miles of chocolate (up from 10 last year) spread over four days, starting Thursday.
The event’s founder, Stephanie Allestad, is known by many titles: District 8 fire commissioner and community liaison. The Chocolate Lady. President and coordinator of the festival. And, as she calls herself, “leader of the insanity.”
Since Chocolate on the Beach was formally organized as a nonprofit entity in 2012, the event has raised more than $35,000 for local historical, educational and community programs. “It’s a small festival; we have anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 people that come out,” said Allestad. “But they come out to buy chocolate.”
And it just keeps expanding.
“I didn’t think we’d grow longer, but here we are at 13 miles now,” said Allestad. “And now we’ll be focusing on fattening it up.”
Helping the organization toward that goal is the addition of the “theme within a theme.” The first one was Pirates, in 2016. “That was a big hit,” said Allestad. It also won a gold award from the Washington Festivals and Events Association, in the PR & Media category.
2017’s theme was Death by Chocolate, and this year’s is the antithesis: Saved by Chocolate.
“We’ve partnered up with the Oregon Superhero Coalition, so we will actually have superheroes running all over the place for four days,” said Allestad.
From Friday through Sunday, families can have breakfast with the superheroes at different locations. (Reservations are advised.) During the day, other events will directly involve the visiting heroes, while others might just have a few drop-ins. Also, superhero movies will be screened free between 11 a.m. and 10 p.m. those days at Navy Getaways Pacific Beach.
Since Allestad is also a fire commissioner, it seems apropos that one day out of each year’s festival is designated as Law Enforcement Appreciation Day.
“All branches of 911 and fire and law and EMS and military — active and retired — get in free on Sundays,” she said. “This is just our little way of saying thank you to these people — and not just supporting our own fire department, but other ones as well.”
That support goes way beyond free admission. This year’s fundraising goal is for three $2,000 grants — one to the North Beach Community Center, and two to emergency service providers: Grays Harbor Fire District 16 in Copalis Crossing and KXPB-LP 89.1 FM, the Pacific Beach emergency broadcaster. All three are in need of supplies and equipment, said Allestad.
It’s all in the name of helping the overall community. And keeping the festival family-friendly and affordable is equally important to Allestad.
“All of us living in Unincorporated-ville … this unites us,” she said. “It’s a community festival, and that’s the way we plan to keep it.”
And how did the festival add 3 miles this year? “Lone Tree Espresso in Ocean City has entered into the Battle of the Bean,” said Allestad, which means locations officially participating in the event now range from that point all the way up the coast to Moclips.
The Battle of the Bean is one of the festival’s three Chocoholics Award competitions, in which local businesses vie for public votes in various chocolate-related categories. In this one, coffee houses listed on an official ballot may receive votes for best chocolate hot drink, chocolate cold drink and barista.
The other two are the People’s Choice Awards, in which local eateries compete for best chocolate appetizer, entree and dessert; and the Chocolate Cocktail Throwdown, in which restaurants, pubs and taverns vie for the best chocolate shot, chocolate martini, chocolate specialty drink and server. (Obviously, you must be 21 or older to cast votes in that category.)
Along with the public voting, numerous related events are planned, from a murder mystery dinner to a silent auction to late-night superhero karaoke. For kids of all ages, there’s bowling for chocolate, an early morning mountain-bike ride and of course the public contests: superhero costumes, chocolate recipes and chocolate-eating.
Allestad is thrilled about this year’s special guest judge for the recipe contest: Mama Ginger Passarelli, founder of the Soup Ladies. That nonprofit, which provides fresh meals to those responding to emergencies and disasters, was featured on Mike Rowe’s “Returning the Favor” series.
“She was on the Amtrak scene, feeding the responders there,” said Allestad. “I am so geeked! I can’t wait to meet her.”
Vendors & features
Numerous vendors and demonstrators are returning this year, many of whom have developed quite a following over the years. One of those is Bliss (“just Bliss”), the colorful proprietor of Blissful Wunders in Steamboat Island.
Since the festival’s second year, in addition to operating a vendor booth, he’s been offering demonstrations on making truffles — with plenty of audience participation.
“It is fun, I have to say. Sometimes I even wear my chef coat and comb my hair,” he joked.
“He’s always entertaining,” said Allestad. “You never know what he’s gonna do or say.”
But the main reason he keeps coming back goes deeper than profit or entertainment.
“I do it because it’s a community- based project, and the money’s raised for good causes,” he said. “I do it because I love Stephanie — she’s an amazing woman and does a lot for her community. And I like to support that.”
The event also has several new vendors as well as a few extra features this year. They’re working with local cab companies to get people safely from place to place for the Chocolate Cocktail Throwdown, which of course is spread over several venues. There’s also a new class on how to make chocolate ravioli with a raspberry mascarpone filling.
“I’m all over that one,” said Allestad. “I like chocolate best in savory dishes and entrees.”
As to the future, the organization is considering adding a fun run. What festival-goers will not see anytime soon are the oft-suggested chocolate pudding wrestling, chocolate dunk tanks or a chocolate slip-and-slide. “I just don’t see that happening,” laughed Allestad.
Chocolate on the Beach
Vendors: Saturday and Sunday, Pacific Beach Elementary School
Demonstrations: North Beach Community Center, 4576 SR 109, Pacific Beach
Tickets: $5 adults, $1 teens
Wristbands: $5 (two-day access to vendor area and demonstrations)
More info: chocolateonthebeachfestival.com
Also for more treats, stop by St. John’s Chapel by the Sea in Moclips, 4612 State Route 109, for free “Chocolate Sundaes on Sunday,” Feb. 25 from noon to 1 p.m. Donations will go to benefit the Green Lantern Lunch Program.