Written by Joe Stumpe

Before “Chocolat” and ”Like Water for Chocolate,” there was another movie starring the dark and delicious stuff: “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

Now that classic 1971 fantasy is serving as inspiration for the 14th annual Death by Chocolate at Exploration Place, and it somehow seems like it should have happened before.

“This year’s theme, at long last, is Willy Wonka,” said Christina Bluml, EP’s director of marketing and communications. “Of course, the chocolate vendors especially are going crazy. They love that theme.”

That adds up to a lot of love, with some 45 vendors lined up to serve guests all the chocolate, savory foods and cold beverages they desire. Live and silent auctions, interactive science demonstrations with EP’s staff of educators and music by local cover band Annie Up are also on tap. Death by Chocolate 2020 takes place Saturday, Feb. 29 at Kansas’ premier science museum on the Arkansas River.

Bluml said she isn’t sure why Willy Wonka (also the subject of children’s books and a 2005 sequel) hadn’t made an appearance at DBC before, but noted that the theme often revolves around whatever traveling exhibit the museum is featuring. Currently that exhibit is “Imaginate,” described as “a collision of two worlds — science and art.”

“It’s about using those creative juices to create something new,” Bluml said. “That’s very Willy Wonka.”

As usual, there will be contests for best sweet and savory treats, with a “people’s choice” award and others judged by a panel of local foodies. New participants include Weirdough Bakery, Patsy Cakes, Pinole Blue and Taco Locale.

“People love the chocolate but we’ve made a concentrated effort to have a good balance of savory vendors, too,” Bluml said.

The “VIP Experience” is getting a little more elevated this year, with a private lounge, beverage service, hors d’oeuvres, raffle prizes and most tantalizing of all, early access to the vendors. Bluml said that head start on goodies “is really a special thing.”

Death by Chocolate is the biggest annual fundraiser for EP, which uses a STEM-based approach to inspire youngsters. There’s a slightly later start time this year — 7:30 p.m. — and the museum will close all that Saturday for the first time to get ready for the event.

Tickets remained available through late January but were going fast, Bluml said. Unlike some annual events that eventually seem to run their course, DBC appears to be just hitting its stride.

“It’s a pretty amazing thing,” Bluml said. “Everybody knows about it and everybody looks forward to it. We have great community support and we’re so grateful for that.”

Death by Chocolate

Saturday, Feb. 29, 7:30–10:30 p.m.
Exploration Place

$95 general admission
$250 VIP Experience (6 p.m. admission)
For tickets and more info, visit or call 316.660.0620

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