Front photo: The amazing samples at Next Door Kitchen and Bar. In photo gallery (left to right): Jessicakes owner Jessica Mayette in Two if by Sea Gallery; and multiple scenes from the Ballston Spa Chocolate Festival on Friday, Feb. 2, 2018. Photos by www.photoandgraphic.com. Ballston Spa Business and Professional Association Executive Administrator Ellen Mottola and Wonky Studio and Gallery owner Matt Belskis; chocolate samples delivered to the judges' table by "runners"; and BSBPA President Stacy Simmons, Glenn Kopris, Trustee Noah Shaw, Victor DelNegro, "First Friday fanatic" Lanie, and Bill and Ellen Mottola. Photos by Larry Goodwin.
BALLSTON SPA – The lure of so many delectable chocolate treats being doled out by their makers on a Friday night, with Valentine’s Day in sight, definitely attracts hundreds of people to this village.
As part of a “First Friday” series supported every month by a diverse mix of village business owners, the Ballston Spa Chocolate Festival has raised awareness for five years now about some of the most mindful chocolate “chefs” in the area.
With the aid of social media, the sweet samples that chefs share at this fun annual contest (for $1) have grown fast in popularity.
Perhaps the richest story, though, is the steady role played by the women and men of the Ballston Spa Business and Professional Association (BSBPA), who happily organized the Feb. 2 “Chocolate Fest” ahead of their group’s 35th anniversary next month.
“We’re kind of like the Brooklyn to Saratoga’s Manhattan,” observed BSBPA Executive Administrator Ellen Mottola, who enjoyed Chocolate Fest with her husband Bill and the four other contest judges inside Creative Endeavors at 49 Front Street. “Each year it gets a little bigger,” she added.
A total of 21 Ballston Spa businesses took part in this year’s event, hosting the chefs and allowing throngs of contented kids and adults to escape frigid temperatures and wait in long lines for various chocolate samples.
The Candle Collective at 20 Prospect Street, which hosted Lucy’s Cupcake Corner, occupies space in one of several renovated brick structures that some village residents fondly remember as the Chocolate Factory.
Most of the participating businesses are located in the heart of the village, on Milton Avenue (Route 50) and Front Street, so Chocolate Fest tends to inundate sidewalks and streets with pedestrians. That, in turn, causes traffic issues for nearly three hours.
Still, the festival’s overall popularity seems to be growing—much like the 35-year-old “Chowderfest” in Saratoga Springs, which was held the next day.
“I’ve been a busy lady,” reported Jessicakes owner Jessica Mayette, as she took advantage of a break in arrivals at about 7 p.m. last Friday to replenish a table adorned with her cute miniature cupcakes.
Mayette made chocolate truffles, too, and her efforts had paid off by Monday when her treats won in the “dessert” category, according to the judges.
The BSBPA noted that the other contest winners were a “chocolate pulled pork with slaw” in the “savory” category, made by Sweeney’s; assorted desserts by Grandma Apple’s Cheesecakes; and alcoholic shots with Oreo cookies in the “beverage” category, made by Henry’s Tavern at 19 Front Street.
The Jessicakes samples were found in two Milton Avenue businesses: Corina Contemporary Jewelry and Fine Crafts and Two if by Sea Gallery. They are owned separately but happen to be connected by an unusual doorway through the wall.
Mayette, before she had joked with a man holding two Coffee Planet cups if one was hers, explained that she prepared for Chocolate Fest until the early morning hours. “I’m tired,” she said, returning only seconds later to her table for more smiles and pleasant conversation.
Vicki Brignati, owner of Alexander’s Bakery, had stacked her 400-plus samples neatly in containers near the front window of A Bead Just So across the street. Her son Owen provided loving assistance along with her sister and business partner, Kristen Poulin.
While Brignati was busy greeting chocolate lovers and serving her cupcakes (complete with little hearts), Poulin emphasized the importance of products that are safe for the many people who struggle to manage food allergies.
“She’s an excellent baker,” Poulin said.
“The town was packed. The people were out and about, and they had a great time,” concluded Matt Belskis, owner of Wonky Studio and Gallery at 20 Washington Street. He hosted the chef from Adirondack Barkery, who sampled products for pets.
This week, Belskis was proud to host his first BSBPA Networking Breakfast, which the group organizes every month at different village businesses. More than 20 people seemed delighted to eat and mingle Tuesday morning in his Wonky Studio space.
The walls there display colorful drawings and paintings of local artists. Belskis, who recently joined the BSBPA, said he produced and handed out hundreds of black-and-white Chocolate Fest flyers, and that he encouraged children to color them.
“The one thing I’m about here is getting the kids off of computers and phones,” he admitted.
Belskis said his brother, John, has owned Excellent Adventures Comics at 110 Milton Avenue for 21 years.
(Belskis also made a point of noting how they both support a special benefit planned for Sunday, March 18, called the Albany Comic and Toy Show. The goal is to raise funds for a devoted comic fan named Justin Goldsmith, who suffers from cystic fibrosis and is in dire need of a lung transplant.)
Graphic designer Joel A. Glastetter, owner of SillyCar Design, attended the breakfast and praised the BSBPA for revitalizing business opportunities in Ballston Spa.
At present, Glastetter said, he works out of his home but is contemplating the rental of office space in the village (he and this writer graduated in the same Ballston Spa High School class).
Mottola, the BSBPA’s only paid staff member, has served as administrator since 2004. She organizes most of the networking breakfasts, while a group of five local women are the main decision-making officers. Another nine men and women comprise the BSBPA board of directors.
Small fees are paid at each network event. Also, Mottola explained, there are about 270 members of the BSBPA, paying three levels of annual dues: $150 for businesses; $50 for nonprofits; and $25 for residents.
Since the BSBPA was founded in 1983, according to President Stacy Simmons, successive officers and board members have ensured the group’s longevity. “They really laid a lot of beautiful groundwork for us,” Simmons said of her predecessors.
Members of the BSBPA are preparing next for a special anniversary Community Mixer and Annual Meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. on Monday, March 19 at the Next Door Kitchen and Bar at 51 Front Street.
Mottola says the BSBPA is “constantly an evolving organization” that wants people to experience “the whole community.”
Younger entrepreneurs, she added, seem to view Ballston Spa as more favorable to starting a business because they consider Saratoga Springs to be “out of reach.”
“That’s an exciting thing to be a part of,” Mottola said.
For more information, visit the website https://www.ballston.org.