Chocolate Fest is sweet for local businesses

By Chris Feely / CJ 475 Reporter
Posted March 29, 2012

While most attendees probably suffered a sugar crash after attending the second annual Southwest Chocolate and Coffee Fest, local businesses were warming up for a sugar rush of their own. The event was held March 23-25 at the Albuquerque Convention Center.

The festival was held in a larger room of the Convention Center than in 2011, with 75 vendors this year it almost doubled last year’s number. The festival included the world’s largest chocolate fountain, moon jumps, food demonstrations and free sample from vendors.

Director boasts fest helps businesses
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By Chris Feely

Hear from local businesses and Dean Strober, the Chocolate Festival director.

Dean Strober and his wife, Lena Strober-Armstrong, set up the event shortly after moving to Albuquerque from Brooklyn, N.Y. While exploring the Land of Enchantment and looking for jobs, a different New Mexican festival inspired their Chocolate and Coffee Fest.

“It really started with an idea at the wine festival looking around going ‘What if we did something with chocolate?’ and then somewhere along the way I said ‘What if we threw in coffee to the mix,’” Strober said.

One vendor at the festival, Villa Myriam Specialty Coffee in Albuquerque, had two booths and a VIP lounge. Brothers Juan and David Certain started Villa Myriam in 2011. The two gathered resources and made their first public appearance in a small booth at the first Chocolate and Coffee Fest, but they had no idea what they were in for.

“It was a great way to launch the company. Last year we were starting and we sold out of everything, we did so good. It was such a nice shot of cash,” Juan Certain said.

Juan Certain said much of Villa Myriam’s success is from the Chocolate and Coffee Fest. After making contacts at the first festival, Villa Myriam is now carried by well-known businesses in Albuquerque like, Los Poblanos Inn, Standard Diner, Hotel Parq Central, The Range Cafe and Las Montanitas Co-ops. Certain said this year the fest was a success for his company as well.

“It’s hard to anticipate new business, but we have at least five solid leads with pretty well-known places here, so it’s pretty amazing actually,” Juan Certain said. “The Coffee and Chocolate Fest is a great venue to put our name out there and to get to new contacts. It’s not so much about selling at the fest, I don’t think we turned a profit. It was about the contacts that we got, it was about putting our name out there and being able to build our relationship with our customers.”

Rima Rothweiler, a franchisee of the company Nothing Bundt Cakes in Albuquerque, is hoping for a success story similar to Villa Myriam. She said the same as Certain, the festival is not about making money.

“We’re almost out of samples, and we brought a few thousand. Public awareness is what we’re trying to do, we’re a very new business, about eight months old, and we’re just trying to make sure that people know that we’re in Albuquerque and willing to satisfy their cake needs,” Rothweiler said.

Jeffrey Mundy, his wife and their three kids said the festival simply enhanced their weekend. His kids were wired off sugar, and his wife said she had her fill of free coffee. “We’re just trying to have a family outing, been there for two and a half hours having a good time and some laughs,” he said.

Mundy was at the festival for his family, but even he said his job would benefit from him attending. “Being a chef I plan on utilizing some of the vendors that have been participating in this event, so I tip my hat to all of them and thank them for a good time.”

The Strober and Strober-Armstrong worked with local businesses and organized the first Southwest Chocolate and Coffee Fest in April 2011. Strober said the first fest only consisted of 38 businesses but was packed.

When asked about a the idea of chocolate fest returning next year, Strober-Armstrong said, “Oh absolutely, it seems to be a big hit.”