Inside our hot cocoa stand

Years ago -- before I had become a mom -- I spotted a full-page magazine ad featuring a bundled-up brown-haired girl behind a hot cocoa stand, and I tore it out. 

I can't recall what the ad was for -- maybe an insurance company? But I remember feeling utterly charmed by the scene and wanting to file it away to try out one day as a mom.

A lemonade stand is cute. A hot-cocoa stand is cute and cozy.

Unexpected.

Whimsical. 

In a chilly season, little ones doling out comfort and warmth. 

Wintry outreach of the sweetest order.

And unlike lemonade, a hot-cocoa stand allows for a host of fun toppings: marshmallows, whipped creamed, cinnamon or peppermint sticks, chocolate syrup and chocolate chips. 

I'd been perusing Pinterest for months, drooling over darling hot cocoa stands. They've become a popular centerpiece for photographers to use in mini sessions, which are usually intended to capture a nice photo for the Christmas card. It's one of those effective set-ups for photographing toddlers where, like the autumn picnic I blogged about, your kids will act like they're just playing, not being forced into an unwelcome photo shoot. 

You're guaranteed a great shot, even if the kids aren't looking at the camera. (This pin particularly caught my eye. Yes to all the cuddling sisters in coordinated outfits.) 

I had planned outfits for Maria and Jane months ago, when I fell in love with this fair isle robin dress from JoJo Maman Bebe (now on sale!) and fair isle cardigan. We do matching outfits too, but I especially love the look of coordinated sibling outfits that clearly belong together but aren't too matchy-matchy -- which is how siblings often appear, like they're related but not identical. 

The dress and sweater were adorable for holiday photos. 

But they aren't overtly Christmas-y. They work all winter long. More bang for your buck!

When it came time to finding a cocoa stand, I scoured Etsy. Some were too expensive. Others were too small. 

Finally I landed on the perfect cocoa stand -- the most attractive, a reasonable price, the ideal size, sturdy but not too heavy, customizable (paint your own or make a request) and collapsable for easy storage (a huge selling point for my husband, who thinks our garage is already too full).

Much to my delight, the artisan happens to be Minnesotan! Opa and Oma are grandparents in Elk River, Minn. Support a Minnesota family and enjoy fast shipping! 

Opa first built a hot cocoa stand for his daughter, Katie, a talented Elk River photographer seeking the perfect prop for Christmas sessions with her clients. He didn't disappoint! (See more of Katie's work here.)

Opa and Oma's stands have been a huge hit; they've been used to sell lemonade, cocoa, candy and bracelets. One boy requested a vegetable stand and gave his earnings to the troops. 

"It's the perfect tool to encourage entrepreneurship among child," said Oma, a.k.a. Jody Kreuser, who owned Elk River's first daycare. 

Opa and Oma's stand has earned only 5-star reviews. "I absolutely adore this fun lemondate stand!" one mom wrote. "My son will be able to use this for years to come! This is a quality product and super easy to set up!!" 

Ours originally looked like this, though I opted for a brown counter for a more natural look.

Rather than painting it, we stained it. I like the rustic, neutral look, which will allow us to use it for various purposes throughout the year. (I'm planning to do a lemonade stand, and I'm also intrigued by the prospect of a pumpkin stand.)

I painted "Hot Cocoa" at the top and used the same red acryclic paint to spruce up a burlap banner I'd snagged for $5 off eBay. A pennant banner packs such whimsical, childlike charm -- one of my favorite finishing touches at a kid's party. 

I set up a few other props: a little tree (from Home Depot), a vintage sled (from a garage sale) and our vintage wooden ice skates from Etsy's SoVintastic

The hot-cocoa fixings, displayed in old mason jars, also functioned as a great prop. Throw in a cute thermos for the cocoa, and you've got a winsome scene. (And remember, there's nothing Christmas-y about this set-up; it will work all winter.)

I grabbed whipped cream, a stack of plaid paper coffee cups and stools for the girls, and we were good to go!

The girls had a blast. 

Not only did they feel important and enterpreneurial, but they were allowed to indulge in our own offerings. The marshmallows and peppermint sticks were a big hit.

We didn't last long, and the girls needed lots of help with pouring, but neighbors were patient buyers and seemed to appreciate the entire operation.

We charged a quarter a cup and received generous tips. Our earnings went into our Disney jar. It's gigantic and mostly empty -- we've got a long way to go -- but the success of our little cocoa stand made the family trip feel within closer reach to the girls. 

All in all, we created a great winter memory. 

 


Christina Ries is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and two young girls (and another baby on the way!) in Inver Grove Heights. Write her at christina@mnparent.com.


Charmed reviews are entirely the author's opinion. Special thanks to the following vendors for supplying complimentary samples for review and photography: