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A sweet surprise: La Jolla Art & Wine Festival returns and introduces ‘Sweet Street’

A variety of lollipops will be available at the La Jolla Art & Wine Festival this weekend.
(Courtesy of Megan Kim)

Desserts of all kinds will join 175 artists, 50 wineries and craft breweries, gourmet food, live music and other attractions in this weekend’s spotlight.

For some of the artists participating in this weekend’s La Jolla Art & Wine Festival, the medium is paint, glass, wood or clay. For others, it’s chocolate chips, butter or sugar. Lots and lots of sugar.

For the first time, the Art & Wine Festival will feature a “Sweet Street” on Wall Street with vendors offering desserts of all kinds, including baked goods, lollipops, ice cream and more.

The festival is slated for 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 9-10, primarily along Girard Avenue. It will spotlight 175 artists (more than ever, according to event organizers) from across the United States and Mexico, plus 50 wineries and craft breweries, gourmet food, live music and other attractions.

Proceeds will benefit programs such as art, music, science, physical education, technology and onsite medical care at La Jolla’s five public schools — La Jolla Elementary, Bird Rock Elementary, Torrey Pines Elementary, Muirlands Middle and La Jolla High. The festival has raised more than $1 million for local public schools since its inception in 2009, according to its website.

For Sweet Street vendors such as Noel Ross of Oceanside-based Noel’s Cookies, getting the chance to participate is about more than slinging snickerdoodles.

“We had to shut down at the beginning of COVID, so this will be our first event since the pandemic,” Ross said. “We’re looking forward to watching people enjoy the cookies and being around people. For the last year and a half, we have been doing everything online and just with delivery. We offered that before, but it wasn’t a big part of our business. The big part was farmers markets, where we could actually see people enjoy the cookies.

“I love seeing the joy on their faces. I want to see people enjoy the food instead of just hoping. Getting back into things means a lot to me.”

Noel’s Cookies “are made from scratch, really soft with chewy gooey centers and a crispy edge,” Ross said. “And we make them big.”

Her signature cookies include one with espresso and oatmeal bourbon with homemade bourbon vanilla, seasonal flavors such as pumpkin spice sugar cookies and spiced chai. There also are classics such as chocolate chip and double peanut butter.

Noel's Cookies owner Noel Ross will be at the La Jolla Art & Wine Festival's “Sweet Street.”
(Courtesy of Noel Ross)

Megan Kim, owner and “sugar artist” at La Jolla-based Lick It Lollipops, also had to slow her business as COVID-19 put the kibosh on outdoor events.

She said 2020 “was supposed to be big for us; we had a lot planned. I bought a lot anticipating making all these lollipops. I think at one point I had 300 pounds of sugar. Then we started back up, but it was quiet. As the street festivals have started back up … we were able to get back out.”

She added that she is “super excited” to have a booth at the La Jolla Art & Wine Festival, having had one in previous years. “The people, the energy, the other artists, it’s amazing. It’s a great vibe,” Kim said.

The former bartender for weddings and corporate events started making cocktail-inspired lollipops because “food on a stick naturally evokes fun, like Popsicles or lollipops,” she said. She branched out to create more than 300 flavors both for adults and children. Kim expects to take 44 flavors to the festival.

“These are all hand-poured single-batch lollipops with quality ingredients,” she said. “We have a lot of folks with food sensitivities and what they are watching for, and we can make a lot of variations.”

Even those with brick-and-mortar stores are looking forward to the exposure the festival looks to bring. Nader Hamdan, owner of Scoops in La Jolla Shores, said his shop on tourist-heavy Avenida de la Playa also was affected by the pandemic.

“COVID impacted us a lot, especially when the beach shut down,” he said. “So something like this gives us incredible exposure. Even the locals that live in The Village don’t always come to The Shores as much. This is our first time participating [in the festival], but we know it’s a staple community event.”

Hamdan said his small-batch ice cream comes in a variety of flavors, from traditional cookies and cream to “eccentric” honeycomb, and in dairy-based and vegan options.

Getting back to business also means a lot to event founder and volunteer chairwoman Sherry Ahern. Last year, the festival was canceled due to COVID-related restrictions on gatherings.

“This year is important to us,” Ahern said. “In planning this year’s festival, I feel like I’ve gone home again and am working with my family. I love helping my community and helping the schools. We work on this event all year, and people look forward to it. We expect 40,000 people. ... We want to ... bring people to La Jolla, which is so needed.”

Sixty percent of the artists are returning participants; the rest are coming for the first time.

Some event signatures have been adapted. For example, the wine and beer garden space has been expanded to account for social distancing, and tickets must be purchased in advance. The silent auction has been expanded with an online presence.

“We are going to be very diligent about cleanliness,” Ahern said. “We have a clean team walking around cleaning high-touch surfaces. We’ll have hand sanitizer everywhere. We encourage everyone that has not been vaccinated to wear a mask, which we will have at the event.

“I hope people are excited to come out.”

For more event details, a festival map, the list of artists, the entertainment schedule and list of wine and beer garden participants, visit ljawf.com or call (619) 233-5008. ◆