The 30th annual Chocolate Lover’s Fantasy fundraiser for Lincoln’s Historic Haymarket District paid homage to Lincoln’s early candy-making history Jan. 29 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Over 500 attendees sampled chocolate concoctions created by dozens of local chefs and connoisseurs.
“The money raised will help fund the final 10 historic plaques that will be placed on Haymarket buildings and will help promote the Historic Haymarket walking tour,” said Diane Cunningham, who has chaired the event more than half of its 30-year history.
Area candy making dates back to 19th century
As far back as the 19th century, candy making has been part of the Haymarket District’s history, according to Ed Zimmer, historic preservation planner for the Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Department.
“In 1895, Frank Gillen and William Boney joined two candy companies together and established Gillen & Boney Good Candy Makers at Eighth and P streets in a building called The Candy Factory,” Zimmer said. “It was purchased by Russell Stover Co. in 1942 during World War II because with sugar rationing, Russell Stover couldn’t keep up its production level, so it started buying smaller companies to get their sugar rations.
“Russell Stover moved into the building and grew in Lincoln,” Zimmer continued. “They used a half dozen buildings around Eighth and P streets and produced a million pounds of candy a month.”
Zimmer hosted The Candy Factory table at this year’s Chocolate Lover’s Fantasy event. The booth displayed historical photos of The Candy Factory building and Russell Stover’s employees working in the candy factory. Lincoln Haymarket Development Corporation board member Angie Tucci and volunteer Karen Combs wore clothes like the candy makers in the historical photos and helped hand out Russell Stover candies at the table.
“We offered candy and literature,” said Zimmer, who displayed copies of the Haymarket Walking Tour Booklet, which he updated last year, at the table.
Zimmer noted that in Russell Stover’s heyday, the company employed over 800 people in Lincoln.
“A lot of people stopped by to share memories of Russell Stover’s or to ask questions,” he said. “Some worked there, and others had relatives who had worked there.”
Other historical Lincoln chocolatiers
Zimmer added that several other chocolatiers did business in Lincoln over the years. Raymond Bauer began Bauer’s Chocolate Studio in the early 1930s at 1329 N St. By the early 1940s, “House of Bauer” was operating at 1609 N St. Eventually the company, known for its Bavarian mints, became part of Baker’s Chocolates in Greenwood, Nebraska, Zimmer said.
Another Lincoln chocolatier was Miller & Paine, which made its own specialty chocolates as part of its bakery and café.
Russell Stover closed in Lincoln in the late 1970s.
“When the first Chocolate Lover’s Fantasy event started in 1986, Russell Stover wasn’t long gone,” Zimmer said. “The board members were looking for events to promote the Haymarket, and the first Chocolate Lover’s Fantasy event was where Vincenzo’s is now, in the former location of H.P. Brand, which was a saddle and tack manufacturer,” Zimmer said. “Lots of restaurants, a comedy club and other businesses moved in and out of the building. It may have been vacant in 1986 when the event started.”
After that first year, Chocolate Lover’s Fantasy moved to several different locations as it has grown, said Larry Small, a Haymarket board member who has attended all 30 annual events. It has also taken place at the Outback in Barry’s lower level, the Lincoln Station, Holiday Inn, Embassy Suites and the arena.
“It finally came to the arena because of the large numbers in attendance,” Small said. “We gained a different crowd when it came here.”
City of Lincoln develops unique table theme tradition
One tradition that has developed through the years is a unique table theme by City of Lincoln employees.
“The craziness of our table themes has grown over the last few years,” said Dallas McGee, assistant director of the city’s Urban Development Department, who said he has attended “27 or 28” of the 30 Chocolate Lover’s Fantasy events.
“The first several years we were very proper and had fun, but we started experimenting in the scope of our set and the number of people involved, and it has evolved over time,” McGee said.
The City of Lincoln won this year’s Most Unique Table Design award with its “Rocky Horror Chocolate Show” theme.
When asked how the department decides which characters the employees portray, McGee replied, “We look at people’s attributes and decide. For example, Kurt Elder has had some great roles over the years and is in high demand, and he is Dr. Frank N. Furter. I’m Riff Raff, who is kind of a creepy character.”
Other winners at the 30th annual event were LeadBelly restaurant for Most Creative Use of Chocolate; Nama Choco, which won the People’s Choice award for the third year in a row; and newcomer Lulubee Artisanal Chocolates, which won the Most Delectable Chocolate award.
Lulubee co-owner and chocolatier Gaylene Steinbach said she decided to participate in the event for the exposure it would give her new business.
“I’m just starting out in town over by the Devaney Center at 1345 New Hampshire St., and I’m seeing if I can make this work in Lincoln,” she said.
Celebrity chef judges were Jeff Korbelik, features editor at the Lincoln Journal Star; and Brad Anderson, meteorologist with Channels 10/11 News.
Emcees were Shelby Fenster and Courtney Johns, morning anchors with Channels 10/11 News; and Chris Goforth, KFOR 1240 afternoon show host.
Musicians from Harris Academy of the Arts provided live musical entertainment.