ChocolateFest Country!

In 1985 Bill Branen, Jack Berry, and Dave Wright of the Burlington Standard Press along with Henry Spreaha and Henk Hasert of Nestle, Mayor Marty Itzin and the Burlington Area Chamber of Commerce, brainstormed a way to draw tourists to Burlington and to celebrate Nestle”s 20th anniversary of doing business in Burlington. They capitalized upon the idea that most people love chocolate! With Nestle”s help, they planned and marketed a Chocolate Festival and gave Burlington the nickname of “Chocolate City U.S.A.”.
The first actual festival was in May of 1987 and entertainment was hosted at local school auditoriums and athletic fields. The big act that first year was the Kingston Trio. By 1988 Hershey”s had taken the City to court over its nickname, “Chocolate City U.S.A.”, which took a couple of years and much publicity, including an article in the Wall Street Journal, to resolve. After the first year, the Festival date was moved to the third weekend in May (the weekend after Mother”s Day). In 1992, following several years of changing locations to hold the festival, the need for a permanent site was evident. With the help of the city, an unused parcel of about 15 acres and a new purchase of about 5 acres were put together. Several chairmen coordinated the festival including Jack Berry, Kurt Ludwig, Kathy Zdanowski, and Bob Branen (Bill”s son) until he resigned in 1998.
With no heir apparent, the Burlington Chamber of Commerce polled local charities and service clubs to assess the effect of not having a Chocolate City Festival upon their budgets. They all were very concerned, since the Festival had become, for many of them, their major fund-raiser. After twelve years, the Burlington Chocolate Festival was facing a number of challenges including the time and effort required to produce it every year. With a family and his own business to run, Bob Branen approached the Burlington Chamber of Commerce Executive Committee in the fall of 1998 requesting their assistance with a plan to continue the Festival.
Upon acceptance, Bil Scherrer along with several dedicated local residents, many who previously served on the Chamber Board, began to flush out a new ”Operations Committee” This committee would carry out the huge workload of the Festival by basically dividing the responsibility into several key areas. (Administrative, Entertainment, Grounds, Marketing, Media, Operations, Sponsorship, Vendors, and Volunteers.) Chocolate City Festivals was renamed ”ChocolateFest” and the new focus of ChocolateFest was to maximize its ability to help local charities and service clubs raise money while bringing a fun tourist oriented event to the City. ChocolateFest is a separate non-profit organization with its own board and it is not controlled by the City. In 2015, over 750 volunteers staffed the Memorial Day weekend of ChocolateFest.


  • 1999 – New group takes over running ChocolateFest, calling themselves the “Operations Committee”. ChocolateFest parade is cancelled due to expenses and ability to organize it in time.
  • 2000 – Began a “Branding” program by developing a new logo and web page to go on all promotional materials.
  • Sponsorship marketing program employed, involving all levels of the business community.
  • Attendee demographics began to be collected in 1999 through surveys and a ”Win Your Weight in Chocolate Contest.
  • Eliminated national musical acts since they were not profitable and focused on regional acts.
  • Although it was a controversial issue, a Beer Tent was added with sponsorship from C.J.W./Miller Lite.
  • 2001 – a slightly profitable year for ChocolateFest with approximately $140,000 to charities and clubs.
  • More blacktop is laid down creating better walking conditions.
  • 2002 – Cold weather leads to a loss of over $70,000 to CF but charities and clubs still made about $100,000.
  • Operations Committee refocuses on cost cutting with over $100,000 taken out of the budget. ($28,000 entertainment, $23,000 grounds, $6,000 Workforce, $11,000 admin., $27,000 marketing, and $9,000 beer tent)
  • 2003 budget is ~$320,000 and projects a ”reasonable” profit with $140,000 to charities and service clubs.
  • 2004 – ChocolateFest is given the opportunity to move to Memorial Day Weekend, thereby adding an additional day of revenue.
  • A permanent grandstand is built in the Family Land Area. Material and labor was all donated.
  • 2005 – The move to a 4-day weekend proved to be successful, with a 4th day of good weather following a rainy afternoon the day prior.
  • 2006 – Chocolate Experience Tent” is created. A dynamic emphasis on chocolate vendors and activities.
  • 2008 – A significant upgrade in electrical infrastructure is installed on the grounds. A necessary investment for the festival”s long-term growth.
  • 2010 – Established an ҅xecutive CommitteeҠto oversee ChocolateFest financials, contracts, and festival expansion.
  • 2012 – Long time advocate, and strong supporter, as well as member of the Operations and Executive Committee ֠James L Wanasek passes away. His son, John Wanasek continues in his roles.
  • 2013 – After 26 years, Nestle Foods & Confections announces that they will no longer be able to produce the creation in-house. They will support ChocolateFest as much as possible as they try to secure an outside source.
  • The south side of the Chocolate Experience Tent and Retail Expo Tent are reworked.
  • Vendors are relocated to the north side of the tents to create a more open concept with seating and reveal the Wanasek Family Stage.
  • A Beer Tent has been part of the festival since 2000. Starting this year, patrons are able to walk the entire festival grounds with an alcoholic beverage. This decision was made after thorough discussions with the security personnel and the police department.
  • 2016 – Chocolate celebrates its 30th festival. Nestle USA celebrates 50 years in Burlington.
  • The Future – ChocolateFest continues to make Burlington Wisconsin a destination point during Memorial Day Weekend for people of all ages to enjoy with friends and family. Facility improvements, keeping what works well, improving where needed, and bringing in new people to carry out the mission will sustain ChocolateFest for years to come.
COST OF ADMISSION Online: Children 4 and under – Free; Children 5-12 – $2.50; people over the age of 12 – $7.00. Click here to purchase tickets online. At the Gate: Children 4 and under – Free; Children 5-12 – $3.00; people over the age of 12 – $8.00. SCHEDULE OF EVENTS: . The Chocolate Experience Tent (which houses the chocolate vendors, chef demonstrations, chocolate eating contests, and a variety of family-friendly activities). Click here for a full schedule of events.

Chocolate Experience Tent Hours

Friday May 26th 4:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Saturday 10:00 am – 9:00 pm
Sunday 10:00 am – 9:00 pm
Monday 11:00 am – 7:00 pm

Festival Hours

Thursday May 25th  5 P.M – 10 P.M. No Gate Admission — Carnival Only —
Friday 4 P.M – Midnight – Fireworks at Dusk
Saturday 10 am – Midnight
Sunday 10 am – Midnight
Monday Noon – 7P.M.  $5 or 5 non-perishables, Pack the Pantry MONDAY

COST FOR DIFFERENT ACTIVITIES: Access to all Music Stages, The Chocolate Experience Tent and Expo Tent are included with gate entrance. In addition to the entrance ticket costs, there are activities that cost additional money. There is a large selection of food and other vendors (t-shirts, etc.) which charge for their fare. We also have a carnival which charges for it”s rides. In the Chocolate Experience Tent, chocolate vendors charge for the chocolate items they sell. You may also purchase a Taster Ticket for $8  Reduced price this year —  $7 in the Chocolate Experience Tent that allows you to sample 12 items from pre-determined chocolate vendors. There are various other activities in the Chocolate Tent that are free.
ESTIMATED TIME TO GO THROUGH THE FESTIVAL: This all depends on what you chose to do when you get here. Several families return 2 to 3 days to see specific entertainment, ride rides, and participate in the Chocolate Experience Tent activities. Please email back if you require more specific information in this area.
DIFFERENT BOOTHS: On the festival grounds we have food vendor booths and merchant (t-shirts, novelty items, etc.) vendor booths. The Carnival includes several games booths in addition to rides. We have a tent dedicated to commercial vendors. And the Chocolate Experience Tent houses the festival”s Chocolate Vendor booths.
WHO “RUNS” the Festival: Burlington”s ChocolateFest is run completely by volunteers. Our volunteers work on behalf of non-profit organizations to earn money for their organization. So, in that sense, dozens of non-profit organization are represented at the festival. Our vendors and the carnival, however, represent themselves (and not our non-profit groups or the festival). The festival operations committee also consists of all volunteers. ARE THERE SAMPLES: If you purchase a $7 Taster Ticket, you will receive 12 chocolate samples from pre-determined chocolate vendors in the Chocolate Experience Tent. Some chocolate vendors pass out samples outside of the Taster Ticket. You may purchase as many Taster Tickets as you like. Every patron also gets a Nestle cookie in the Chocolate Experience Tent.
MAIN STAGE/BEER TENT AREA: Anyone under 21 MUST be accompanied by Parent or Legal Guardian prior to 8PM. MUST be 21 or Older to enter the Main Stage area after 8PM. No Exceptions!
CARRY-INS: No, carry-ins are not allowed.
PARKING: Festival General Parking is available for $5.00 per vehicle. Parking is accessed at the corner of Milwaukee Ave and Maryland Ave. There are various local businesses that supply parking for a wide range of fees, most are located around the festival grounds mainly on Milwaukee Avenue. On street parking may be available on a first come first served basis, check local ordinances before using on street parking.
BATHROOMS: The festival has port-a-potties located in various places around the grounds.
CREDIT CARDS: Are accepted at the gate and at most vendors. ATM”s are available on grounds for a small ATM fee.
RIDES: The festival includes the world”s largest traveling carnival – it is a set-up and take down operation.
SKY GLIDE: We do not have a sky glide.
PETS: No pets on the grounds with the exception of registered service animals.

Burlington ChocolateFest

Physical Address: 681 Maryland Avenue Burlington, WI 53105 Known as Burlington Festival Park
Mailing Address: PO Box 411 Burlington, WI 53105
Phone Mailbox: 262-763-3300 (not staffed ֠provides general information)
Administration Phone: 262-763-7185 (only staffed the week of ChocolateFest)

Administration Kevin Bird
Chairman Bil Scherrer
Chocolate Experience Vince Skurndz
Chocolate Experience Teresa Schmalfeldt
Contact Kevin Bird
Contracts Kevin Bird
Emergency & Rescue Tim Mc Court
Entertainment Bob Prailes
General Information Bil Scherrer
Grounds Jr Merten
Kids Vince Skrundz
Kiwanis Liaison Bob Prailes
Marketing Linda Fellenz
Mayor Jeanne Hefty
Media Barb Lois
Operations Officer John Wanasek
Parade Mike Deans
Program Director Bob Prailes
Rotary Club Liaison John Schultz
Safety Officer Tim McCourt
Services Bil Scherrer
Sponsorship Bill Stone
Tickets Jeff Schmid
Chocolate Vendors Teresa Schmalfeldt
Commercial Vendors Mike Vos
Food/Beverage Vendors Tracy and Dana Roberts
Volunteers Bil Scherrer
Festival Grounds Map Address: Burlington Festival Grounds 681 Maryland Ave. Burlington, WI 53105
Directions from your location

Discover Burlington!

This area is truly a 4-season destination with something for everyone 12 months a year! Our rivers, lakes, streams, and woodlands are just the beginning of your experience in our wonderful city. Visitors can easily enjoy a leisurely afternoon strolling along Burlington.
Scenic Riverwalk or beautiful trails. Adding to the beauty of Burlingtonӳ landscape are dozens of parks, many along the banks of the White and Fox Rivers, offering playground equipment, picnic areas, and fishing. Our rivers and lakes make Burlington a popular destination for boating, fishing and water sports enthusiasts alike. Area lakes include Bohners Lake, Browns Lake, Rockland Lake and Echo Lake – located in the heart of the city. The Farmers Market takes place in Wehmhoff Square Park located in Downtown Burlington every Thursday evening May through October from 3 – 7 p.m. and the Kiwanis Civic Band and B-Town Sounds perform free concerts in Echo Park during the summer. Bring your blanket and picnic basket because you wonӴ want to miss it! Remember, no visit to Burlington is complete without seeing the Aquaducks Water-Ski Show, the Rotary Barons or the Southern Lakes Blue Devils. The Aquaducks Water-Ski show is free and held on Thursday evenings in the summer at Fischer County Park on Browns Lake. The Rotary Barons are a semi-professional baseball team that began in 1997. You can see them in action yourself during their season, which runs from May through August at Beaumont Field, across from Echo Lake. Last but not at all the least are the Southern Lakes Blue Devils, a semi-professional football team consisting of non-college bound stand-out athletes. The Ironman league consists of 16 teams within Southeastern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois. Just minutes southeast of Burlington on Rustic Road Hwy. B, you will find two of our areaӳ most valued treasures – AEppelTreow Winery and Brightonwoods Orchards; a collaborative venture that produces award-winning wines, sweet cider and a large variety of heritage apples in season. Across the street sits Richard Bong State Recreation Area with over 4,500 acres of rolling grassland, savanna, wetlands and scattered woodland. In addition to our vast array of outdoor recreational offerings, Burlington is home to several historical, educational and entertaining attractions. The historic Malt House Theater is home to The Haylofters, one of Wisconsinӳ oldest continuing community theaters. The Burlington Historical Society maintains the Burlington Historical Museum and Pioneer Cabin, offers a self-guided walking tour of Historic Burlington, and has traced the BuR SPUR of Wisconsin’s Underground Railroad. Plus, the Chocolate Experience Museum, Spinning Top Museum, and Logic Puzzles Museum will delight children and adults alike. Known as the home of the Liars Club, Burlington boasts the Tall Tales Trail, a self-guided tour of championship lies immortalized on bronze plaques displayed throughout the downtown area. Burlington’s official nickname, Chocolate City USA, celebrates Nestle USAӳ long term commitment to the community as well as the annual ChocolateFest held every year on Memorial Day weekend. ChocolateFest draws visitors from around the country and grows in popularity every year as people come to see what giant chocolate creation has been made to celebrate each yearӳ theme. For information on any of these events or attractions, contact the Burlington Area Chamber of Commerce at (262) 763-6044 or visit us online at


Americinn Lodge & Suites (262) 534-2125, 2709 Browns Lake Drive, Burlington, WI 53105 Hampton Inn (262) 767-1900, 400 N. Dodge Street, Burlington, WI 53105 Rainbow Motel (262) 763-2491 or (800) 292-0751 (reservations), 733 Milwaukee Avenue, Hwy 36 N, Burlington, WI 53105

Attractions & Recreation


Browns Lake Water Ski Club/Aquaducks 262-763-9719 Free show on Thursday evenings in the summer at Fischer Park B-Town Sounds 262-492-3697 Free concerts in Echo Park every other Thursday evening in the summer
Haylofters, Inc 109 N. Main St. 262-763-3296 One of Wisconsin’s oldest continuing community theaters. Kiwanis Civic Band 262-763-7595 Free concerts in Echo Park on Thursday evenings in the summer
Plaza Theater 448 Milwaukee Ave. 262-763-6789 Four screens offering first run movies


Lincoln Monument Original work of sculptor George Etienne Ganiere located at intersection of State and Kane Streets. Pioneer Cabin & Vintage Gardens Located in Wehmhoff Square Park. The cabin is open on Saturday afternoons from 1 to 4 pm, May-October and Thursday 3-7pm.
Voree Strangite Mormon Settlement Travel south on Highway 36 out of Burlington about one mile, turn right on Mormon Road Whitman School Located at Sheldon and Beloit Streets. Open by appointment. Call 262-767-2884


AEppleTreow Winery 1072 288th Ave. (Hwy. B) Burlington, 262-878-5345 Tours & Wine Tastings Brightonwoods Orchard 1072 288th Ave. (Hwy. B) Burlington 262-878-3000 Heritage Apples
Burlington Senior Center 201 N. Main, 262-767-9880 Gathering place for seniors to enjoy companionship and meals Fischer County Park 262-763-8446 Sand beach, boat launch, and beach house located on the southeast shore of Brown”s Lake
Fox River Landing 31423 Bridge Dr. Waterford 262-662-5690 Canoe rental and transportation. Call for reservation. Grand Geneva Resort 7036 Grand Way, Lake Geneva 262-248-8811 Skiing & Snowboarding, Golf
Richard Bong State Recreation Area 26313 Burlington Rd. Kansasville, 262-878-5600 Seno KRLT Conservancy 3606 Dyer Lake Rd., Burlington 262-539-3222 Conservation Center
Towne & Country Lanes 264 S. Pine St., Burlington 262-763-7333 18 lanes, family owned YMCA/Camp MacLean 31401 Durand Ave. 262-763-7742 Offers a variety of outdoor activities


Browns Lake Golf Course 932 Browns Lake Dr. 262-763-6065 Grand Geneva Resort & Spa 7036 Grand Way, Hwy 50 East, Lake Geneva 262-248-8811
Hawks View Golf Club W7377 Krueger Rd., Lake Geneva 262-348-9900


Burlington Historical Museum 232 N. Perkins St. 262-767-2884 Open Sundays from 1 – 4 p.m. Chocolate Experience Museum 113 E. Chestnut St. 262-763-6044 Open weekdays 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sat. 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Spinning Top Museum & Logic Puzzle Museum 533 Milwaukee Ave. 262-763-3946 Call for hours