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Niagara Falls
Friday, July 12, 2024
Who is holding a golden ticket?
Sean O’Donnell shows off one of the hand-crafted “Willow Wonka” chocolate bars. There are 20 golden tickets to be found among the 1,000 bars made by Willow Cakes and Pastries chocolate master Catherine O’Donnell, with prizes from local businesses RICHARD HARLEY

Willy Wonka would approve of the sweet deal going on at Willow Cakes and Pastries in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Following the storyline made famous by the eccentric chocolate maker of Hollywood lore, the bakery is celebrating 20 years in NOTL with the creation of its very own magical character to herald two decades of business.

Enter Willow Wonka, who, you never know, may be the long lost daughter or niece of Willy himself. 

The guessing game is all part of the fun.

The big-eyed and bubbly character is easily NOTL’s newest celebrity, capturing the imaginations of local residents who have become enchanted by the idea of playing out one of the big screen’s most beloved children’s stories.

Since early June, customers who spend $20 or more at the bakery are allowed to pick through a collection of chocolate bars made in-store. 

The lure? Golden tickets hidden in select bars will give the holder the right to claim a gift basket full of prizes on July 1.

The brains behind the idea are the mother-and-son duo of Catherine and Sean O’Donnell, co-owners of the bakery.

“I said to my son, ‘No one does anything fun any more,’ ” said Catherine,who is a renowned chocolatier.

She attended Belgium’s Callebaut Chocolate Institute as a young woman and is now a judge at the annual World Chocolate Masters competition.

“Then he created the character Willow Wonka.” 

It was an easy choice, said Sean.

“We are a pastry shop, our chocolate work is based on the Belgian chocolate method. It just seemed like a no-brainer.”

He spent hours creating posters of the character that now adorn the store’s walls and front windows. They portray Willow staring at customers with her distinctive huge blue eyes and flowing blond hair under a very Wonka-like top hat.

“We made around 1,000 chocolate bars and there are about 20 to 25 prizes,” said Sean

“We’ve had some of our (business) friends donate $50 and $60 and $80 and we put those together to make gift baskets worth around $200.”

Prizes, he said, include things such as winery tours, bike rentals and, of course, sweet treats and even a massive garden fountain “that’s worth around $400.”

“It is kind of a thank you to the community, locals and customers from all around,” he added.

And from all around they have eagerly come to take part in the fun.

“We have people coming in and they just spend the $20 so they can get a chocolate bar,” said Catherine.

“It has been so fun to watch people get so excited,” she added, making sure to give props to the NOTL business community that donated prizes and came to support the idea so eagerly.

“It was so easy to get everyone to buy into. I just sent out emails with a little paragraph of what we wanted to do and there was nobody who said no.”

About 50 chocolate bars will be put out each day.

On Canada Day, holders of a golden ticket can go to the nation’s birthday celebration at Simcoe Park and collect their prize.

It won’t be hard to find the O’Donnells and their team at the festivities.

They will be the crew serving slices of the massive Canadian flag cake. 

The patriotic pastry fresh from the bakery has become something of a tradition in NOTL every July 1, featuring over 3,000 slices of cake for patriotic revellers.

The cake is so big it has to be transported to the park on a flatbed trailer from the bakery at the corner of Mary and Mississagua streets.

Holders of a golden ticket who are unable to attend the Canada Day celebration will still be able to pick up their prize.

“They just need to contact us,” said Sean. 

“And obviously they will need to have proof of their ticket when they come in to pick up their prize.”

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