Saturday, September 23, 2023

Veggie Wagon takes its hot cocoa bar ‘seriously’

‘Tis the season for cozying up with some hot cocoa in Carolina Beach.

The Veggie Wagon, known for its array of local and homemade goods, opened a hot chocolate bar for the second year in a row at its location on Lake Park Boulevard on Thursday.

One of The Veggie Wagon's hot chocolate drinks, topped with a homemade local honey marshmallow. Photo courtesy of Max Sussman.
One of The Veggie Wagon’s hot chocolate drinks, topped with a homemade local honey marshmallow. Photo courtesy of Max Sussman.

“We take our hot chocolate pretty seriously,” said Max Sussman, who owns the business with his wife, April.

Sussman said the idea for the bar came from a partnership with Island Roast Coffee (The Veggie Wagon’s coffee bar features the local company’s roasts) and a lack of quality cocoa mixes in the market. He said they decided to make use of the espresso machine and frother and offer something different, as “just pouring milk out of carafes wasn’t our style.”

Neither is using pre-packaged mixes. Sussman, who prides himself on creating as much as he can from scratch, made all the powder mixes and syrups that go into the eight different flavors the bar is offering this year.

“We found that all the pre-done hot chocolate mixes have marginal ingredients. There was nothing great out there that we really enjoyed,” said Sussman. “We have an addiction to doing all our stuff ourselves. Sometimes it kills us, but the end result is worth it.”

Sussman tries to incorporate regional ingredients as much as possible. This year, local honey is a major feature in the store’s homemade marshmallow topper as well as in one of the bar’s two new flavors: matcha local honey white chocolate.

“We’re making sure that we’re using local farm products that benefit the local farms and local community as much as possible,” said Sussman.

In addition to the anti-oxidant matcha drink, The Veggie Wagon’s other new offering this year is a white chocolate Irish cream featuring a homemade Irish cream syrup. That brings the bar’s total to three white chocolate drinks and five regular cacao ones.

“There’s not a lot of white chocolate choices other than peppermint, which we also have,” said Sussman. “It was really fun to not just do your traditional hot chocolate flavors but to think outside the box.”

The switch from a slushie bar (the store’s summer offering) is not the only thing happening at The Veggie Wagon this month. Sussman said that along with new seasonal food offerings, the store’s gift baskets are now available for shipment worldwide, just in time for the holiday season.

“It’s really nice because we’re finally getting into a position where we know what works and can rotate seasonally,” Sussman said, noting that the business just finished its fourth summer season. “This is the first year we’ve been able to transition smoothly.”

The hot chocolate bar will be open until March when the warmer tourist season starts up again and the store will switch back to selling slushies. Until then, Sussman hopes that their unique offerings, along with the store’s customer appreciation day on Nov. 21, will keep patrons coming during the off-season.

“It’s a way to make it a little more season-appropriate,” Sussman said. “It’s something fun to do and everyone really seems to enjoy it.”

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