2021 SoWa Winter Festival promotes unique food businesses


Crescent Huang

The 2021 SoWa Winter Festival instilled new hope in ambitious business owners.

Crescent Huang, news correspondent

Located in Boston’s South End, the SoWa Winter Festival made its first comeback since the beginning of the pandemic Dec. 3. Offering products ranging from hand-crafted art to chocolates, cookies and freshly-made food and beverages, the 10-day festival was the ideal place to grab last-minute gifts through Dec. 12.

The festival offered a variety of items ranging from stocking stuffers like candles or bracelets, to more expensive options like unique clothing and shoes. But what made this winter wonderland especially notable was its vast array of food businesses.

Alyssa Schoenfeld, founder of Bites of Boston Food Tours, was happy to see customer interest and satisfaction at the SoWa Winter Festival. Since 2011, Bites of Boston has taken the dining experience to the next level by offering local walking food and cultural tours around Boston neighborhoods including the South End, Allston, Chinatown and Downtown. The company made creative adjustments to their services during the pandemic.

“While unable to offer our tour experiences in person, we pivoted to curating themed local gift boxes, and including the stories of the local makers and artisans on story cards, which we include in all of our gift boxes,” Schoenfeld said in an email. “This essentially enabled us to ‘adapt’ out tours to a shippable format, and allowed us to continue supporting small, local businesses during the pandemic.”     

New business owner Lauren Berry, founder of Sweet Botanical Bakes, saw the festival as an opportunity to showcase the work she puts into her unique products. 

“My business is only starting,” Berry said. “Seeing all the people come here and ask about my cookies makes me happy.” 

It’s easy to understand why so many customers would be interested in Berry’s cookies. Unlike a normal bakery, Berry incorporates botany into her goods, offering sweet treats infused with New England’s finest plants. Also unique to Sweet Botanical Bakes, these delectable treats are marketed as themed collections, with the ingredients often hand-picked by Berry.

According to Berry’s website, “[Sweet Botanical Bakes is] a tiny woman-owned business dedicated to honoring the plants of New England.” 

The Garden Party Classic Collection, for instance, offers a variety of pressed flowers including nasturtium, pansy, chive blossom, borage dianthus, marigold and geranium in the cookies. Meanwhile, the Lavender Lover’s collection incorporates lavender buds and lemon and the special Strawberry Rose Buttery shortbread cookies are topped with strawberry rose sprinkles.

To add a personal touch to her cookies, Berry said all of the flowers come from her mother’s garden.

Berry is able to offer such high-quality and unique products by incorporating her knowledge of plants with her love of baking.  

“I studied plants in college and I know how to bake. Those are the two things I love,” Berry said. “So I thought of a way to put them together, and here I am.” 

Even though sales diminished and Berry hardly had any customers during the pandemic, she maintained her devotion to her botanical cookie business.

“The SoWa festival did help me gain lots of customers. This is why vendors love to come here because the event is helping them so much,” Berry said. “I am glad I didn’t give up and I would definitely want to come again.”

Each food vendor at the SoWa Winter Festival offered something special. While some attracted customers by arranging a plethora of holiday desserts in a take-home box, others charmed them with the romantic aroma of floral cookies. 

Julie Ayotte, director of sales of the McCrea’s Caramels Company, promoted the business’ twist on classic caramels by handing out samples to passers-by. 

McCrea’s Caramels Company turns the concept of caramels on its head by offering a wide slew of flavors that take the taste buds of customers by surprise. Some flavors include black lava sea salt, tapped maple and single malt scotch. 

“Our customers love caramels for sure, but we understand that people have different taste buds,” Ayotte said. “We tried to make each flavor of our caramel taste good for every customer.” 

The founder of McCrea’s Caramel, Jason McCrea, is a scientist with a background in chemistry and an abiding appreciation for natural ingredients. Ayotta said McCrea’s goal for the caramel company is simple: to make the best caramels in the world.

The pursuit of McCrea’s goal was thwarted when the pandemic slowed the growth of his business, but events like the SoWa Winter Festival instill a new sense of hope into ambitious business owners and entrepreneurs. 

“The hardest thing was not being able to get new consumers during COVID even though our main customers come from the internet,” Ayotta said. “Look around. There are so many people here buying our caramel.”

The return of events like the SoWa Winter Festival gives business owners a chance to counteract the losses they experienced during the pandemic. With the swift and inspiring end of the event this year, the SoWa Winter Festival will only continue to be more stimulating and encouraging to vendors and customers next year. 

“All vendors are happy because of the amount of people [who] come visit everyday,” Berry said. 

Editor’s note: The story was updated Monday Dec. 20 at 6:20 p.m. to more accurately reflect Bites of Boston’s business model.