By JENNIFER AMATO
Thousands of lovers of horses, chocolate and wine descended upon Monmouth Park last weekend for what promised to be a sure bet.
Between horse races, attendees of the special Win, Wine & Chocolate event were treated to samples from local wineries, chocolate shops, bakeries and artisan vendors of all kinds.
“It’s not hard to get girls here when you have both [wine and chocolate],” said Heather Luciano of Belmar. “I think it’s a summer thing. Everybody wants to be outside.”
Greater Media Newspapers partnered with Monmouth Park for the second summer in a row, joining the park’s already established Win & Wine weekend. The newspaper chain celebrated its fourth chocolate-themed event in the past two years, coming on the heels of its own Chocolate & Wine events in February 2015 and January 2016.
“Yesterday, there was an amazing amount of people here,” Donna Errico of 2 Chicks With Chocolate in Metuchen said on Sunday. “It was out of control. It was crazy.”
Offering samples of milk chocolate, dark chocolate and caramel crunch, as well as three different fillings for bon bons including cabernet caramel, milk chocolate truffle and strawberry daiquiri, Errico said most patrons were interested in the tempranillo and spicy merlot chocolates.
“A lot of people buy them to pop in the mouth right now,” she said.
Greater Media Newspapers’ own Diane Avery showcased her handmade jewelry.
The graphic designer has been crafting for years, creating items such as glass vial necklaces, clock face jewelry, lock and key earrings, napkin rings, cigar box purses and themed shadowboxes.
“I love that I can actually do what I love and it goes along with what I do for a living,” Avery said.
Attending the event with her friend Debbie Ulrich, Avery, who is from Howell, said she did so well during both days of the show that her next steps are to create a website and possibly open a shop on Etsy.
Inspired by Win, Wine & Chocolate, she said she may also attempt to make wine glass holders ahead of the next event.
“There’s a lot you can do. There are so many different things,” she said. “It’s nice to be out. I got good feedback.”
Tom and Donna Zupancic of Plainsboro provided good feedback as well. Since Tom Zupancic is originally from Matawan, the couple tries to visit the park a few times each year for the food truck, car and beer festivals.
“We love the fact that this is bringing crowds here. It’s good for the track,” Donna Zupancic said, noting that she loves wine, and her husband loves chocolate, making it a perfect fit.
“I think the appeal of wine and chocolate is a good combination. Who doesn’t like good wine, red, white or sangria? Who doesn’t like chocolate?” she said.
Saying she “tore” herself away to bet on a horse race, Donna Zupancic was glad she did because she won — and then treated herself with her winnings to a necklace a local vendor was selling.
“I think this is a good opportunity for local business people to get their product out,” Tom Zupancic said. “It gives them exposure to get in front of a large group.”
Overall, the event proved successful, as special events at Monmouth Park can bring in upwards of 60,000 people, even though the average season attendance is approximately just under 10,000 per day, said Monmouth Park Marketing Manager Brian Skirka prior to Win, Wine & Chocolate.
Although the exact attendance was not available by press time, Greater Media Newspapers’ Advertising Manager Lauren Simons said there were at least 4,000 wristbands sold for the chocolate lounge, which featured 20 vendors.
“We were beyond ecstatic with how many people came out. Our vendors were extremely happy,” she said.
“Despite the unexpected crowds, our vendors were able to offer delicious goods all throughout the day,” added Lisa Marie Stecker, event sales coordinator for Greater Media Newspapers.
Attendees also enjoyed the Chocolate Valet, a service where purchased items were stored so that visitors did not have to carry goods around all day. Stecker said almost 30 trackgoers took advantage of the free service over the course of the two days.
“It’s a good indication of people being excited to then go and enjoy their day at the track,” said Jennifer Peyton, classifieds/promotions manager for Greater Media Newspapers.
The popularity of the event being publicized by the area newspaper chain reflects the importance of local businesses within the community.
“It’s great advertisement. Yesterday and today, we definitely got the word out. People now know who 2 Chicks is,” Errico said. “It’s phenomenal. It’s great exposure.”
“It shows our support of local businesses beyond advertising,” Simons said. “It’s important to us that we stand behind our vendors … and by holding these events, we hope to help them with their business.”
The sponsors of the event were Fords Jewelers, 449 New Brunswick Ave., Fords; European Homemade Provisions, 301 Old Bridge Turnpike, East Brunswick; and Amboy Bank.
Greater Media Newspapers is also planning a Back to School fashion show and men’s event in the fall, as well as another chocolate event in the winter. To sign up for event alerts, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Jennifer Amato at email@example.com.