ESCONDIDO — Every year, downtown Escondido gets a little sweeter for one weekend thanks in part to an overwhelming adoration for chocolate.
“I think chocolate is such a universally loved thing and people are fascinated by it,” said Dayleen Coleman, owner of D’Liteful Chocolate. “I’ve been working with chocolate for a long time and I’ve only come across two people out of all the years and thousands of people that actually said they don’t like chocolate.”
Coleman owns one of the two dozen businesses that participate in the Escondido Chocolate Festival. The event is Saturday, Feb. 8 in historic downtown Escondido from noon to 5 p.m. Folks buy what’s called a “passport” ticket and can visit 24 tasting locations along Grand Avenue.
“It has less to do with about making profits and more to do with getting feet on the street and getting them inside the businesses,” said Kyle MacLachlan, President of downtown of Escondido Business Association. “It’s nothing but happy people. There are happy people and they go home wondering how they did not know about this before but it’s a real fun event,”
The festival is designed so shoppers can visit new businesses in downtown Escondido they normally wouldn’t frequent. Each stop features a different wine and chocolate-themed pairing. “We have art galleries that do more business on this day than they usually do the whole month,“ said MacLachlan.
The event has been going on for nine years and sells out every year. Ticket sales are capped at 350 people to keep crowds at a minimum and maintain a loyal customer base. “People that have their existing customers and they want to grow their existing business but they don’t want to upset their existing customers,” said MacLachlan. “It’s a very fine line.“
Folks who buy tickets online can pick them up at will call. A ticket includes a swag bag, long stem rose, and a wrist band that grants a person access to the various locations along the mile and a half loop that feature beer, wine, and of course plenty of chocolate.
“They shop. They sit. They have a pretty good time,” MacLachlan said. “Once it takes off, everyone has a really good time. What we have done as the event footprint has gotten larger is invested in horse-drawn carriages. We then figured, we couldn’t move enough people who wanted to do that, so we went with cabs the next year. The event got bigger, so we ended up with a shuttle. This year there is a 20-person shuttle that loops around all of the stops for five hours.”
Event planners advertised it for a month to make sure everyone could buy tickets in advance.
Although the event sells out every year, there are options for folks looking for features that didn’t get a ticket. Event organizers say it’s difficult to find quality chocolate for hundreds of attendees with multiple locations and stay within a budget.
“There will be participating restaurants that will have themed discounts for that day,” MacLachlan said. “We would love to sell more and more tickets but then businesses would get so full that they would have to shut down and just treat the event customers.”
For many businesses, like Coleman, it’s a chance to showcase their product. “I think that people that never knew about those businesses are coming in and that’s why I support it,” Coleman said. “I have a connection to Escondido. That’s where I was born. I’m glad I can help bring customers into a location, so they can get into a location, so they can get a sale. It’s just to get into those shops so they can see these hidden gems or the shops that they have missed in the past.”
The chocolate-making classes she teaches at the festival are intricate and three hours long but remain a highlight at the festival.
The proceeds from the festival are used to promote Historic Downtown Escondido.
“I think it’s something unique that they are able to draw to Escondido and I think it’s great for the downtown business association,” Coleman said. “I think they are doing a great thing. One, they are helping the businesses. Two, they are bringing the community together.”
For more information about the festival, go to www.visitescondido.com.