Last June, I only got a taste of what a Retail Confectioners International (RCI) event entails.
Editor-in-Chief Bernie Pacyniak and I tag-teamed the 2017 Annual Convention & Industry Expo, held in Chicagoland. I got just a glimpse of the group’s family atmosphere and the lengths to which RCI goes to make its gatherings fun.
Fortunately — for me — Bernie had other obligations last week, so I covered RCI’s Spring Regional Conference in Asheville, N.C., (April 9-11) solo. I hadn’t been to Asheville before, so I had no idea what was in store.
Needless to say, my expectations were beyond exceeded.
First, Asheville was an ideal backdrop for a conference dedicated to makers of handmade, high-quality confections. Tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is a city of hikers and hipsters, free-spirits and foodies.
And there’s a great emphasis on food. Paddy Riels, tour guide for Asheville Food Tours, said during an RCI-sponsored excursion that there are 139 eateries packed into Asheville’s downtown area alone. Based on the ones we visited, I’d bet they all offer tasty selections.
The Chocolate Fetish, RCI member and conference host, was one of the stops on the food tour. Founded in 1986 by Sue and Bill Foley — the couple’s "retirement" career — the shop is a haven for chocolate lovers, as well as local artists in need of employment while they advance their careers.
Asheville is also home to the expanding French Broad Chocolates, named for the French Broad River, which bisects the city. While the RCI group toured its factory, co-owner and co-founder Dan Rattigan shared the company’s winding journey and its philosophy of creating delicious, transparent treats.
And no visit to Asheville would be complete with a tour of the palatial Biltmore Estate, built by George and Edith Vanderbilt. Completed in 1895 after six years of construction, the 175,000-sq.-ft. house is still managed by fourth and fifth generations of Vanderbilts.
While the estate — with the gorgeous home, gardens and view of the Blue Ridge Mountains — is enough to delight any visitor, there was another pleasant surprise. The original costumes from the 1997 film “Titanic” are displayed throughout the home to illustrate the fashion of the period and highlight the near connection the Vanderbilts had with the ill-fated ship. It’s said George and Edith planned to make the Titanic’s maiden voyage but had decided against it at the last minute. Good thing.
Undoubtedly, those were enjoyable elements of the RCI conference, but it was also a joy to attend the educational sessions and Candy Clinic, and get to know some of the organization’s members who have family, creativity and quality at heart. I can’t wait until I have another opportunity to attend an RCI event.
Look for additional coverage of RCI’s Spring Regional Conference in an upcoming issue. Also, if we’ve piqued your interest, the 2018 Annual Convention & Industry Expo is set for June 18-22 in Cleveland, Ohio.