There’s something for everybody at The Chocolate Expo

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

Chocolate flows from fountains and is transformed into everything from fish to trucks. When there’s enough of it in a room, it draws a crowd.

“All you have to do is use the word chocolate,” said The Chocolate Expo producer Marvin Baum. “That gets people’s attention right there.”

Folks typically fill the Rutgers Athletic Center to watch a game, but on this day they came for The Chocolate Expo.

“It can be sweet, it can be bitter, it can be all different kinds of things and that’s what makes it so interesting,” said Scotch Plains resident Michelle Fiddler.

Seventy vendors from New Jersey and elsewhere showcased their products. Michael Canzano is the owner of J. Emanuel Chocolatier in Chester. He filled his table with loads of Easter treats. He’s gearing up for the holiday rush.

“It’s maddening. For the four weeks of the year, the four weeks before Easter, it gets really, really crazy. People get into a frenzy. I’ve had people break out into almost a fight, an argument, over ‘I saw that one first.’ It was the last one on the shelf,” said Canzano.

The National Confectioners Association indicates two-thirds of Americans will make Easter baskets. What’s the favorite holiday treat? Chocolate eggs and bunnies, though there was a lot more than that at the expo.

“We are basically like a farmers market on steroids. We’re all about promoting local businesses. So, we literally have farms and wineries here, and then we have small food startup entrepreneurs as well as established businesses,” said Baum. “This is an opportunity for the artisanal chocolate makers to come and directly meet consumers, interact with them, and hopefully also get some distribution and be able to sell online to customers.”

When it comes to chocolate, there’s often one particular movie that comes to mind: “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

“A long time ago, about 48 years, I was Mike Teevee in the original ‘Willy Wonka and Chocolate Factory,'” said Paris Themmen.

As for the chocolate the cast enjoyed?

“Interestingly, the chocolate that they used in the movie that we ate was Hershey’s, so they shipped it over, even though, we were in Germany and Switzerland was right next door,” said Themmen.

Throughout the expo, there were lots of samples, including Bacon Bites. Chef Lawrence Rosenberg says he started the business by accident.

“I was doing a catering job and the bacon ended up in the chocolate bowl because they thought I was done,” Rosenberg said. “I mixed it. It didn’t taste very good at first. I spent about a year trying different types of chocolate trying to figure how to dry the bacon. Once I got it right I took it to market and the rest is history.”

Rosenberg found a way to incorporate bacon into Peeps. He dips the bottom of the peeps into milk or dark chocolate, then they sit and dry on crushed bacon. He seals them and they’re ready for the holiday. It’s his most popular Easter product.

The National Retail Federation indicates the average consumer will spend $20.78 on candy this Easter, for a total of $2.5 billion nationwide.

“It has a strong taste and it’s just so delicious,” said 7-year-old Presley Kopazz.

“My daughter is obsessed with chocolate and lives and breathes it,” said mom Renee Cody.

They’re the type of customers these business owners would welcome, not just during the Easter holiday season, but any day.