Mouths were moving at a record pace on Jan. 27 – mostly because people were eating sweet treats, drinking wine samples and talking with old friends for most of the afternoon.
At Newspaper Media Group’s (NMG) fourth annual Chocolate & Wine event, more than 600 people meandered through the Reflections Ballroom at Vibe Tap & Grill in Hazlet.
Accessorize Me Please, Anyae’s Intimate Apparel, Avery Designs, Bath Fitter, Bound for Travel, 2 Chicks With Chocolate, Duck Donuts, ESBE Designs, Goodway Bakerey, Gourmet Creations, Grape Beginnings, Laurel’s Jewelry Creations, Laurimar, Lily’s Chocolate Paradise, Manifesto Handmade Jewelry, Nayaz Boutique, Neschanic Valley Beekeepers, Nothing Bundt Cakes, NY Life, On Your Mark Chocolatier, Origami Owl, Park Lane Jewelry, Penelope’s Traveling Boutique, PK’s Kreations, Popcorn for the People, Princeton Village Astrology, Shen Yun Performing Arts, The Broken Shell, The Cocoa Exchange and The Silver Boss featured items on display for the hundreds of attendees who visited the venue.
Sponsors included BCB Bayshore and Amboy Bank, with a raffle sponsored by Fords Jewelers.
Rianna Rea, Lena Sharesky and Brett Tarleton, of Long Branch, said they enjoyed Nothing Bundt Cakes and Duck Donuts the most.
“It’s about being able to try new things,” Rea said. “All the vendors are great.”
“And of course, the wine,” Sharesky said.
Rea mentioned that since they are 23 years old, it’s a good way to learn about wine.
Rea enjoyed her psychic reading, saying, “I definitely want to do a longer session.”
Standing near The Rich Warfield Trio in the main ballroom, Rea noted that the music in the background was a nice touch.
With her display right in front of the trio, Lily Leong of Lily’s Chocolate Paradise was entertained throughout the afternoon.
She read about the event on NJ-Vendors.com, deciding to try her hand at selling homemade chocolate covered turtles, sea salt caramels, pistachio bark, sriracha cashews, vanilla pizzelles and Palmier cookies.
“This started from my love of chocolate pretzels,” she said of her hobby, which she turned into a full-time business in March 2017. “I started making them when my daughter was born. While my daughter slept, I was bored.”
Driving from suburban Philadelphia, she said, “I’m excited to be here. It’s a good turnout.”
She even displayed chocolate covered fortune cookies, Chinese jewelry boxes and wine bottle covers designed in the fashion of Asian dresses.
“I like arts and crafts, but I get to sell it so it’s really rewarding,” she said. “Chocolate is a really fun business. If you’re not happy, it makes you happy. If you’re happy, it makes you happier.”
Various vendors were also on site to provide attendees with a reprieve from their sugar highs.
Lori Kaye of North Brunswick took the drive from Middlesex County to attend last year’s Chocolate & Wine event at Branches in West Long Branch as a guest. This year, she decided to bring her jewelry from Origami Owl to showcase as a vendor.
“I know there is a lot of traffic and a lot of good attendance so I felt it would be a good spot to be out there,” she said of joining this year with a booth. “I think people who like chocolate and wine tend to gravitate toward nice jewelry as well … so it’s a great way for me to get into a new territory in this area and a great way for me to make new connections and meet new people.”
A self-described “chocolate and wine addict,” she said she and her daughter, Melissa, were hoping to sample some items, but with the constant volume of attendees, they were busy for most of the afternoon.
A reader of the Sentinel in North Brunswick, Kaye said she appreciated the visibility a newspaper company has in holding events that are geared toward a different audience.
“By having a different kind of advertisement, it gets me a new audience,” she said.
One of NMG’s own, graphic designer Diane Avery, agreed, saying, “This brings the community together – not only one community, but a group of communities – especially since we have many local papers.”
Avery began creating her own jewelry more than three years ago when she made a pair of earrings for her friend at work.
This year, she introduced some new pieces at Chocolate & Wine, such as small bottle charms with trinkets and sand inside.
“I think there is a lot of variety that brings in a lot of different people,” she said. “A lot of people like the wine and like the chocolate and a lot of people love the jewelry.”
May Pragliola of Hazlet was happy to be introduced to a slew new vendors – and right in her hometown. Her friend Vicki Sapienza invited her to the event, and she “thought having chocolate and chocolate wine is very appealing.”
“It gets people out, participating in their community,” she said. “We need more events in our community that people can go out to.”
She also had lunch afterward at Vibe, which was a convenient choice for attendees looking to have a meal – after finishing their dessert.
“The new venue was great. Fran and her team were wonderful to work with. They were extremely accommodating. We will definitely look to work with them again,” NMG Director of Marketing and Events Angela Smith said about the team at Reflections and Vibe. “I think the event went well. I heard from my vendors who were happy with the new venue and with the turnout. It was nice because we heard from a lot of people that this was their first time at the event, so I’m hopeful that bringing it to Hazlet helped us reach more of our readers.”
The next community events for NMG include a Health and Wellness Expo March 3 in Middletown and a Kids Expo on May 6 in Freehold. For updated information, visit www.centraljersey.com.