By CARLEE LAMMERS
RAVENSWOOD, W.Va. — For Wendy Staats, everything is centered around holidays and special occasions.
There are birthdays, parties, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter. And then there’s the West Virginia Chocolate Festival.
“We do really good Thanksgiving and Christmas. We do a lot of baked goods and things like that. Then from there you swing into Valentine’s Day, Then you’ve got Easter and then it’s Mother’s Day and you just go boom-boom-boom-boom,” she said. “And then we have the Chocolate Festival, which is the week before Easter, so it’s kind of double-duty. The chocolate festival is a really big sale for us. We’ve been with them for 10 years and wouldn’t trade it for nothing.”
Hundreds of people are expected to come to the West Virginia Chocolate Festival Saturday at Ripley Elementary School.
According to co-founder Sheree Knotts, as many as 2,200 people from the region are expected to attend the free event, along with roughly 25 vendors — bringing with them everything from cakes to cupcakes, cookies, cake pops and coffee.
Staats and her crew of friends and family from Sweet Dreams are planning to bring hundreds of chocolate goodies — including their “hot items” like chocolate critters, chocolate superhero and princess suckers, chocolate emojis, fresh chocolate-dipped strawberries, candy apples and popular “basket stuffers” like chocolate Easter bunnies.
Staats said she’s also building a special chocolate LEGO set to be displayed and possibly given away at the festival.
All of Staats’ chocolates are purchased from the Amish Country and poured into her individual molds. Items like her chocolate critters, emojis and LEGOs are all hand-painted.
Staats, who works a day job from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., comes in each night to hand-paint the chocolates — some nights painting little, meticulous details like eyes for hours on end.
“You get up on Easter morning and think about the kids and the impact you made on them,” she said. “It was my dream to own a chocolate shop. It was my goal to open one when I retired. It’s not every day you get to say you’re living your dreams.”
Sweet Dreams Chocolate was born out of Staats’ love to bake and her young son’s request for her to make him a chocolate teddy bear sucker one day after daycare.
From there, it just took off, she said.
She started making treats for craft shows and other events, but she always had a dream of opening up her own shop.
Then, more than six years ago, her time came, and the Sweet Dreams Chocolate store was born.
Chocolate lines the walls of her shop — quite literally.
“Chocolate-colored” paint drips from the walls to give the appearance of melted chocolate dripping down the store walls.
There are chocolate treats as far as the eye can see lining shelves. Everything from chocolate-covered peanuts, pretzels, chocolate-dipped potato chips, s’mores treats and even chocolate-free dog treats.
On Saturday, Staats and her team will load her Jeep with dozens of boxes full of treats and will make the trip to Ripley Elementary for the festival.
“You’ll see a little bit of everything,” she said. “You just never know what you’ll find there.”
The festival runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. The school is located on Second Avenue, adjacent to Ripley City Park. Parking and admission to the event are free. There will also be free samples on hand, live entertainment, free kids’ activities and free face painting.
The Chocolate Parade begins at 1 p.m. from the Municipal Parking Lot in downtown Ripley. It proceeds on South Church Street and School Street to festival headquarters at the elementary school.
“If you like chocolate, this is the place to be,” Knotts said, laughing.
For more information, like West Virginia Chocolate Festival on Facebook.
Sweet Dreams Chocolate is located at 126 Washington St. in Ravenswood. For more information, like Sweet Dreams Chocolate on Facebook.
Lewisburg will also host its annual Chocolate Festival Saturday. The event includes tastings, kids activities, a 10k race and demonstrations. For tickets, a schedule and a festival map, visit lewisburgchocolatefestival.com.
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