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During this time of year, the weather gets colder and chilren will start making your Christmas list in the hope that Santa will bring them presents and lots of cheer. There are many traditions that go around for the holiday season, including the lights, decoration, building snowmen, the food, you name it. Though out of everything you couldn't mention, there's one thing that never gets old no matter to season, a nice cup of hot chocolate. To celebrate the beloved beverage local businesses have come together to create a trail of original mouthwatering hot cocoa drinks, and chocolate inspired experiences for locals and visitors to enjoy in this year's first ever hot cocoa crawl in Elizabeth City. From sweet sips with plenty of whipped cream for the kids to cocoa cocktails to satisfy to grownups to delectable offerings in this community wide hot cocoa crawl will be fun for all. There will also be events, parades and ceremonies to celebrate the season. In an effort to extend this big event I'm talking to Karina Refiere, the executive director at visit Elizabeth City. She graduated from Clark University with a BA in biology and she has a certification for the CDME or to Certified Destination Management Executive from Destinations International. She is joining me today to talk about this event that is currently underway and about the different types of experiences and the hot chocolate that one can enjoy to their fullest. We will also discuss the impact and what it will do for the community moving forward director Refiere Welcome to Eye on the Triangle.
Thank you for having me, Jonathan.
So I usually start off our shows, just, can you just tell listeners a little bit about yourself what you do and all that stuff?
Absolutely. So I have the pleasure of being the Director of Tourism for Elizabeth City and passaging County, North Carolina. We're located in northeastern North Carolina, I think we're about two and a half hours from the Raleigh area. And I love being a director of tourism because people check into tourism when they're looking for fun things to do, so it's generally a pretty positive happy job.
And then obviously, you talk a little bit about where Elizabeth City was, and I'm kind of interested about the background of Elizabeth City because honestly before now, I'll be honest, I've never heard of it. Could you tell us a little bit about the details and maybe highlights of what Elizabeth City has?
Sure. So Elizabeth City is actually the kind of the hub of Northeastern North Carolina, Northeastern North Carolina is in a pretty rural area. And we are located right on the banks of a river, which makes for a beautiful downtown so you can walk along the river. And then our downtown is just one block off the riverfront. We have a state university here we have Elizabeth City State University, which is part of the UNC system. We have a private college we have a hospital. We're also home to one of the largest Coast Guard bases in the country, which a lot of people are not aware of. So we have the fun of seeing the giant C 130 and M 65 helicopters flying overhead all day long.
And let's get into a little bit about the hot cocoa crawl. Why did you choose this year to be in Elizabeth City like why this year like why not last year? Why not in a different city? Like why this year in Elizabeth City?
We're always looking for new fun ideas to help get the word out about our community. We've got a lot of new restaurants that have opened up in the past two to three years particularly in our downtown area, plus a new brewery and a brand new wine bar. So it seems like we had critical mass in order to pull together something as fun and creative as all sorts of different hot cocos, both the adult friendly kind and the child friendly or non alcoholic kinds.
So you talked about some of the restaurants, like what kind of new restaurants are there? And like what did they emphasize or what did they usually specialize overall?
So we have- let's see new restaurants. Well, I'll start with the wine bar because that is the newest and that is, that's not a restaurant per se but it is a true wonderful wine bar; wine, beer, wine cocktails, and they have you know, cheese charcuterie the whole the whole nine yards there and they just opened. The Mills Downtown Bistro is another newer restaurant and they specialize in tappas which is a lot of fun, so you can go and get a couple of smaller dishes and instead of just one one big thing. Trying to think we have Big Boss Burritos, which is is I think pretty clear by the name, they literally have the largest burritos ever, and he's doing a fun Mexican flavored hot cocoa. And we have the Sweet Easy, which is a brand new coffee shop, the name is a spin off of the word "speakeasy", but it's the Sweet Easy, and they make the biggest cookies you've ever seen in your entire life. I can eat a cookie for about four days. And they do hot cocoa, coffee, all of that good stuff. So we've got tons of fun new restaurants, and one plus the ones that have always been here like Paradiso, which is right on the water, Telling Hem, Tiama which is our great Japanese and sushi place, so an incredible variety of restaurants for a smaller town.
And then as we get in the hot chocolate, they have just like the main part of hall this, this festivity, what makes hot chocolate in your opinion, that one beverage that allows kind of like the people that come together and enjoy, like these kinds of events? Because you because obviously we're in a season where you know, it's getting cold, people are doing Christmas trees, you know, Thanksgiving, all that stuff. So what makes hot cocoa in your opinion like that one that allows people to come together? And then do you have a favorite in your- do you have a favorite way of preparing it? And what you do?
That's an interesting question. So I'm a little biased because I love chocolate. kind of joke with my brother, sometimes my brother won't eat chocolate, and I've decided he's not related to me if he doesn't eat chocolate. But chocolate is just mostly universal. Whether you like it sweeter chocolate, the milk chocolate, or the dark chocolate, which is a little more savory, and you already mentioned Jonathan as we're getting, it's very cold out today. So sitting down with a a nice warm mug of hot cocoa just feels it feels like Christmas in a liquid form to me anyways, you know you would as a child, you'd have hot cocoa and cookies for Santa. It's a really great way of embracing the season. And it's accessible to pretty much anybody. Whether you want a small mug, a big mug with whipped cream without, you know, throw a dash of bourbon or vodka in there or just stick to the peppermint syrup. It's all good.
And then do you have a favorite like a favorite like drink, or maybe like a favorite way of preparing it?
Well, I haven't tried all of the hot cocoas on the crawl yet because it just started on Saturday. I have actually had two of them. I had the red wine and chocolate at Two Souls on Saturday. And it was it tasted kind of like a cherry cordial. So really, really quite good. And then I had the peppermint one at the Sweet Easy yesterday so I'm slowly working my way through the crawl. But I just noticed that the one at Paradiso is he added something to it that we didn't know about and it's really cool. He's working with a local chocolatier, and putting a chocolate truffle in the hot chocolate and it looks absolutely beautiful and I can't wait to go there and try that one so that one looks completely different.
So you did mentioned a bit earlier and just now about how like they're making hot chocolate drinks are catered towards more adult drinkers. And do you believe that catering towards adult drinkers makes it more appealing to the community overall?
I'm not sure it makes it more appealing I think some of the restaurants wanted to go that route to make it a little more unique because traditional hot chocolate right that's on every coffee shops menu is is you know traditional steamed milk and chocolate. So this was an opportunity for our chefs to be a little bit more creative. But that said there are definitely some alcohol free ones for those who don't want to drink. Muddies has one called, Muddies Coffee Shop has one called a liquid brownie and I am dying to try that one because it's a liquid brownie. And Sweet Easy also just announced that they are adding to their hot cocoa menu and they haven't said exactly what's going to be on it yet but that they will all be alcohol free but creative variations on the chocolate theme. So it's more like I said, a chance to be creative. Try something different.
And then what kind of experiences do you have for this event? I saw a lot of big different like, you know events, maybe a little dinner brunches, all that stuff. What about them truly relates to the theme of hot chocolate
So several of our bed and breakfasts are doing a hot cocoa buffet, either, you know, if you're a guest of the bed and breakfast, the Blue Ruby is doing a ticketed, chocolate themed brunch with hot chocolate and everything else on the menu is all chocolate themed. And that so those are places to stay. We also have a few of our art studios doing kind of like paint and sip, if you're familiar the paint and sip project, but it's paint and sip hot cocoa, again, building a hot cocoa bar. And so you go paint your chocolate themed art, and drink chocolate while you're doing it. So you could really immerse yourself in all sorts of chocolate stuff here this Christmas.
And then on the tagline when you're sponsoring this event, you talked about how the local businesses are just like getting involved making new drinks and, you know, just all being a part of the festivities. How important especially during this time, is it to bring more attention to local businesses and include them into the festivities?
That's a great question, Jonathan, it's hugely important to raise awareness of our small local businesses and, and entrepreneurs that have, quite frankly, struggled through the past year and a half in particular, and they're just so thrilled when customers come in the door and have heard about them from hearing them on, you know, when a customer comes in and says something like I heard your name on the radio, and then they're like, "Wow, you heard about me", these are things that they can't do as small businesses on their own. So it's really a great opportunity for us in the tourism department to be able to collectively pool all of these ideas and share them under one umbrella. It's just a great way of spreading the fun of Elizabeth City in a way that people can't do on their own.
And then obviously, since we're heading towards Christmas, I saw you have a lighting ceremony coming up on the 26th I believe. And then, what makes kind of those kinds of little ceremonies, even if it's just like a little lighting ceremony what makes them so simple yet so iconic when it comes to the holiday season?
Elizabeth City truly is an iconic small town. It's just so I've only lived here for three years and our very first Christmas we went to that lighting ceremony. And it was the most heartwarming display of like literally everybody and their brother comes to this ceremony. The mayor gives a quick little talk. Santa is walking up and down the street. There's wagon rides along the waterfront, free hot cocoa, free candy canes for the kids and it's just the community coming out and saying hello to each other. The lighted boat parade is very similar. We, like I mentioned we're on the river, so our local marina gets a lot of the boats, boaters together they decorate their boats to the hilt with beautiful lights and then the people riding on the boat dress up in Christmas costumes which is a lot of fun and they just go around the river shore and and the more the crowd applauses- is that the right word? The more the crowd applauds- there we go the longer the boats will circle the waterfront which is a lot of fun, it's very small town USA.
And then obviously, I guess I'm thinking big picture here, like what impact do you see this event having on the community, and can you see this event growing in the future maybe going into different cities in North Carolina? And then like, what new events could you see it having? Maybe if you like were to go next year, or like would you try to add more stuff in or would you try to do something different?
Um, I definitely believe the hot coco crawl, has room to grow and evolve we could add desserts to it. We've talked about adding you know like a chocolate themed pizza so it doesn't just have to be just the beverage hot chocolate, so there's a lot of room to grow there. We can extend it you know Valentine's Day everybody thinks of chocolate for St Valentine's Day, so there's ways it could extend should the restaurants want to continue to delve into that. And we're always thinking of creative fun ideas to drive more awareness and attention of Elizabeth City so we'll have to let you know when the next great idea comes up.
For sure, and then during the day of the hot cocoa crawl you have Pepperberry Inn will host like I think they're hosting a hot chocolate bar for all guests for a two night stay. I believe it's December 3rd-5th. Who came have that idea to actually like have people stay in on that inn for two nights and what what effects you think it will have on them as they're enjoying that experience?
It's, it's, again, it's something new and different for the inn to offer which, as if you have been to that inn before he might go, oh, I want to go back because they're doing something different. Or you know, I've heard of that inn I've never been but gee, I really like chocolate, so hey, honey, let's let's go check it out. Anytime you have something new and different, it's kind of a hook for a consumer to potentially consider trying for the first time or going back if they're a repeat visitor.
And then this is kind of also another big picture question, but I kind of want your opinion on this. Obviously, we've been through a pandemic, which has been lots of struggles, lots of hardships, especially during the holiday seasons. How special is it to have this kind of event like this coming out this time of year?
We are just thrilled to be able to launch something new, pull our businesses together, like I said, I was out Saturday night at some of our restaurants and one of the chefs made the drink and brought it up to me and was like "Look, here it is, I'm going to take a picture of it". They're they're very excited to have something as a collaborative community to participate in. It's- I love the enthusiasm, again of that small town and that you know, people when you go out and about it's really fabulous.
And then this is kind of my last question, but what can listeners do to contact you or your associates if they want to join in the fun participate in the hot cocoa crawl as well? Like what social media websites all that stuff will allow them to start looking and be involved?
Absolutely. So christmasinelizabethcity.com is our overall Christmas websites that has links to the hot cocoa crawl and all of our other holiday happenings. You can follow us on both Facebook and Instagram at @Visitecity. And then we are using the hashtag #EChotcococrawl for if anybody specifically wants to try to track down the hot cocoa crowd, #EChotcococrawl.
Well, that is all the questions I had for today. Thank you, Director Refeire.
F is like Frank if that helps Ref- ihere.
Refiere. Yes, Thank you Director Refiere for joining us today. I really appreciate your time here.
Thank you so much Jonothan and have a wonderful Thanksgiving and a merry Christmas.
Music In today's episode was Sailing by Delicate Steve through the YouTube audio library license.
Thank you for listening to the episode today. If you want to listen to more episodes go to wknc.org/podcast as we have new episodes coming out every Sunday, this is Jonothan Hagman reporting for Eye on the Triangle signing off.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai