Hot Chocolate in Forbes Magazine

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Steve Ginsburg, CEO of RAM Racing, which owns and produces endurance races including the popular international Hot Chocolate 15k/5k Race Series, never intended to start a race. After a successful run (pun intended) in investment banking, Ginsburg wanted to change careers. He combined his love for business and health to open a specialty running store and quickly noted race packet pick-ups drew traffic to the store. So what did he do? He started producing races to generate traffic, too.

“In 2007 we decided we needed a race in November to continue to drive traffic into our store before the holiday season,” he says. Being in Chicago there were two major challenges: the Chicago Marathon ended the race season in early October and if you go too late into the season, it gets cold.

Ginsburg and his team asked themselves what distance would be ideal for marathon runners about five weeks or so after they recovered from the marathon. “A 5k or 10k seemed to be too short and a half marathon seemed too daunting just after a marathon, so we decided on a 15k,” he adds.

Now that they had a logical distance, they needed a theme. Ginsburg drinks hot chocolate daily so he decided to go with that as the theme and the Hot Chocolate 15K was created.

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“But, if we were going to have hot chocolate, I wanted the post-race party food tent to be chocolate overload, too,” he says. He and his team added fondue fountains, chocolate candies, chocolate decorations. Turns out his hot chocolate theme was not only a hit with the runners, it was a great way for him to differentiate himself from the competition. The annual race in Chicago added a 5K, became part of The Hot Chocolate 15k/5k Series and is one of 19 races across the country that kicks off October 1 and lasts until mid-April in Minneapolis. It also added its first international race in Mexico City.

This October, Chicago's mothership race celebrates its 10th year anniversary.

There is no doubt, admits Ginsburg, that the chocolate theme helps the race stay popular, but the chocolate served at the races isn’t just any kind of chocolate.

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“We always survey our runners after each race about their experience and year after year we hear from them that they love our fondue and our hot chocolate,” he says.

A self-proclaimed health nut, Ginsburg is a vegetarian and gluten-free so what he eats has to be worth savoring, he says, and he wants to offer the same quality of foods to his runners.

“The hot chocolate is a proprietary blend I created that doesn’t use hydrogenated oils or other compound fillers you might find in pre-packaged consumer powdered mixes,” he explains. “It’s also amazingly rich because we use high-grade dark chocolate, not milk, and we double the amount.”

It’s also gluten and nut-free. He developed the recipe through trial and error and has it made by a private manufacturer who also services the likes of Ghirardelli and Nordstrom’s.

He’s turned down sponsors, including one mass-market powdered hot chocolate manufacturer, he says, because he wanted to maintain the superior quality of the hot chocolate and its ingredients.

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The dipping fondue the race serves is made by Blommer Chocolate Company, the largest cocoa processor and ingredient chocolate supplier in North America and based in Chicago.

“All 75,000 pounds of the solid chocolate that we melt down for the fondue comes from Blommer’s ‘Signature Line’ – that’s their second highest line,” says Ginsburg. “The only one better is typically utilized for handcrafted chocolates.”

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In conjunction with their 10th anniversary, they’re going to package both the hot chocolate and fondue and sell them at their expos and online during the 2017-2018 race season. “The hot chocolate will come in both a 14-ounce tin and individual serving packets,” he says. “And the solid fondue chocolate disks that can be melted or eaten straight out of the bag will come in an 8-ounce portion.”

The 10-year anniversary of the first Hot Chocolate 15k/5k also brings a new charity partner to the entire Hot Chocolate Series: Make-A-Wish®, which fulfills dreams for children facing serious illnesses.

“Additionally, we introduced a new program called ‘The Legacy Experience’ which rewards the extreme loyalty of our alumni runners with free keepsake gifts,” adds Ginsburg. “And at the flagship race in Chicago, we created a ‘Diamonds For the Decade’ celebration designed to increase donations to Make-A-Wish.”

In Chicago, The Hot Chocolate 15k/5k Series race organizer will be giving away 10 finishers medals, trimmed with 150 single-cut diamonds each, and 500 finishers key-chains, with a single diamond on them, to participants who qualify by raising extra money for the kids.

“With all of our success, we never forgot that running can do so much more than keep you healthy and active ,” says Ginsburg. “It can be a catalyst for charity and giving back to the community. Runners are a remarkably generous group of people. We have raised more than $1 million dollars for charity heading into this year’s Hot Chocolate Series. Recently we teamed up with Make-A-Wish®. Our goal is to be able to contribute $1 million a year through the Hot Chocolate Series during our partnership.”

The Hot Chocolate 15k/5k Series kicks off on October 1 in Denver, Colorado. Chicago's race takes place on Sunday, October 29.