This is the 20th year for Oakdale’s Cowboys and Chocolate festival, May 19-20, and it’s featuring a few vendors who’ve been with the festival since the very beginning as well as several who are brand new this year.
Lockeford Meats is one of those 20-year chocolate festival veteran vendors. York Pettersen, whose family owns the company, said that they come to the festival because they enjoy the small community and support for the event.
“I like it a lot. It’s real family-oriented,” Pettersen said of the festival. “It’s a nice bunch of people running it and the town supports the show well. We go there too, I’ll be honest, because we make a profit there. It’s a good show.”
Lockeford Meats sells a crowd favorite bratwurst sausage on a hoagie roll with onions at their food booth. While that’s the only sausage they offer at the festival, the company actually has 27 different types of sausage that they sell in their Lockeford storefront. Pettersen said that the festival also pulls business into their store. They do custom meat cutting at the store, too, but Pettersen said that it’s predominately sausage – German, Italian, Cajun, Portuguese, Polish, Bangers, Luau … just to name a few.
New vendors will also add to the lineup on Chocolate Avenue this year. Two new ones are Cowboy Toffee Company of Oakdale and The Tea Room Chocolate Company of San Leandro. The two epitomize the variety of choices available for chocolate aficionados.
Sam McGinnis learned how to make toffee when she was a student in home economics class at Oakdale High School and she’s been making it ever since, tweaking her recipe here and there. She and her husband Dan started Cowboy Toffee Company in November of 2011 after they had both lost their jobs on the same day when the restaurant they worked at went out of business. McGinnis said that she and her husband prayed a lot about what to do and the idea for the business came to her in a very detailed dream. They had their first booth at Oakdale’s Cowboy Christmas event and sold out of product.
The couple now produces 28 different types of toffee – so far. Some are seasonal only. They’ll have at least six different types for sale at the festival but the toffee can also be purchased at Bucksworth’s, the Cowboy Museum, Conlin’s, online through their Facebook page, and their website www.cowboytoffeecompany.com.
“We have one called the Mustang, that’s the original,” McGinnis said. “We have one with no nuts called The Gelding. We have one with pistachios called The Cattle Drive.”
There seems to be a story behind all the toffee names, and the ingredients make them unique. On May 16, just days before the Cowboys and Chocolate Festival, Cowboy Toffee Company will be on “Sacramento and Company” on Channel 10, giving a preview of their toffee. McGinnis will keep her toffee recipe a secret but she’ll make S’mores toffee and a toffee sauce served up in an ice cream sundae.
The Tea Room Chocolate Company started up about five years ago with truffles and chocolate bars, said owner and chocolatier Heinz Rimann. Their chocolates are infused with tea such as chamomile, rooibos, or Earl Grey – an award winner for them. There’s also espresso and another with essence of almond-caramel with sea salt. The company has won the 2012 Grand Master Award given by International Chocolate Salon.
Rimann said they offer 12 different flavors in the organic-certified chocolate bars and 30 different flavors in the truffles. Some are seasonal only, but all 12 bars and perhaps a couple of truffles will be at the festival, depending on the weather as truffles are more fragile.
“What we’re doing is kind of new and it’s very important to get as many people to try it as possible,” Rimann said, adding that festivals also allow them to get comments from customers. They also sell their chocolates at stores nationwide, which can be accessed through their website at www.tearoomchocolates.com.
Among the many craft and specialty merchandise booths will be new vendor WalkersStics, which features hand-carved walking sticks made by Randy Walker of Waterford.
“I get all my hardwood from Arkansas, it’s all kiln-dried,” Walker said, adding that area of the country produces the best hardwoods such as hickory, ironwoods, and dogwoods.
Along with his 48-inch to 60-inch walking sticks for hikers and people with disabilities, he also offers another unusual item.
“I probably make the best witches brooms on the west coast. They’re five-footers. They’re gorgeous,” he said.
He added that he carves the sticks and sends them to a broom squire in the Appalachian Mountains where she applies the bristles. He also said the brooms are a new offering this year and they turned out better than he imagined.
Walker, who has worked for the Oakdale Irrigation District for more than 20 years, shared that he had a heart attack in 2009 and his cardiologist told him to relax and take up a hobby. He recalled that he went out one day and began carving on a stick. He knew later that same day that he was good at it.
“I didn’t even know I could carve,” Walker said. “It’s a gift from above … and I treat it like it’s to help other people.”
Now he’s selling the sticks at festivals all over and shipping them around the world.
“This little hobby is just amazing,” he added. “I really enjoy it. It’s allowed me to see a lot of places.”
As for being a vendor at the chocolate festival for the first time, he said he’s glad to be able to participate because for the last 20 years, he’s always been working on that weekend. This is the first time he hasn’t been on the work schedule for the chocolate festival weekend and he’s looking forward to it, especially since it’s local.