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Matthew Osman prepares the Animal Safari hot chocolate for YYC Hot Chocolate Fest at Euphoria Cafe in Calgary on Jan. 27. YYC Hot Chocolate Fest is an annual festival that runs through February and is hosted by Calgary Meals on Wheels.Sarah B Groot/The Globe and Mail

The dead of winter is a tough time in the hospitality industry, with a post-Christmas hangover forcing businesses to get creative to entice patrons through the door.

Mid-winter food festivals are designed to do just that, and there are several notable examples in Western Canada, from long-running hot chocolate festivals in Calgary and Vancouver to a fried-chicken festival in Winnipeg.

The Calgary chapter of Meals on Wheels launched the YYC Hot Chocolate Fest in 2011, expanding significantly since then to include more than 100 vendors this year. When it launched, a staff member heard about a similar event launching in Vancouver the same year – Greater Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival – and suggested Meals on Wheels emulate it.

The event serves as a fundraiser for the food-security charity, and it is hoping to raise $100,000 during this year’s festival, which runs all month.

“February is a good time to bring the community together again and warm people up – literally and figuratively – to the idea of leaving the house,” says Brittney Edge of Meals on Wheels.

The restaurants, cafés and bars taking part include institutions such as Lazy Loaf & Kettle and Higher Ground Cafe, as well as Calgary Heritage Roasting Co., Fonda Fora and River Cafe. I was managing a popular Calgary cafe when YYC Hot Chocolate Fest premiered more than a decade ago, offering up a white chocolate Earl Grey creation topped with whipped cream.

In the past 12 years, YYC Hot Chocolate Fest has become a cornerstone event for Calgary’s Meals on Wheels.

“It actually raises the most funds out of everything we do with the public over the year,” Ms. Edge says. “The demand for our services remains the same year-round, so starting the year off by filling a large chunk of our fundraising goals helps exponentially.”

Euphoria Cafe in Calgary’s Northwest has taken part since 2012. Owner Matthew Osman says it has become a highlight each year for his business and “keeps our creativity flowing.”

“It is amazing seeing it grow from a handful of cafés to so many,” he says. “It has been a rewarding experience that brings joy to the community, as well as exposure and business to independent shops, and best of all raising funds.”

For this year’s festival, his café has leaned into the humorous side of things to separate it from the pack with a Safari Animal Droppings hot chocolate. Drawing inspiration from moose-droppings chocolates, which are common at Canadian souvenir shops, it melts semi-sweet chocolate chips and combines it with steamed milk, coconut syrup and finished with cocoa powder and a safari animal-cracker garnish.

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Euphoria Cafe's creation for the YYC Hot Chocolate Fest this year is the Safari Animal Hot Chocolate.Sarah B Groot/The Globe and Mail

Other notable winter food festivals on the Prairies include offerings such as Hot Beverage Week in Winnipeg, which runs every December, and the soon-to-debut Feed The Soul Dining Week, which focuses on Black-owned food businesses, between Feb. 10 and 17.

Winnipeg’s Fried Chicken Fest recently wrapped up. Its organizer, Susie Parker, has worked on a variety of festivals over the years and also led the #savembrestaurants movement during the pandemic.

“Chef Allan Pineda and I wanted to start a homegrown food festival that would bring people out in groups and get them socializing in the cold and dark of winter,” Ms. Parker explains. “It’s cold here. We know that, but we can’t use it as an excuse. So, we bundle up and get outside to go dine at a local restaurant.”

She adds that the most successful year for Fried Chicken Fest was during the height of the pandemic in 2021, but this year’s event generated plenty of buzz around town and many local eateries were overwhelmed with fried-chicken feature dishes. Ms. Parker says the plan is to expand into another city such as Toronto or Calgary.

Winnipeg has already moved onto Potato Week, which is run by an agricultural-marketing board. That event, which wrapped on Jan. 29, served plenty of quirky potato-centric dishes around town, including a ketchup-chip-inspired potato doughnut at Oh Doughnuts.