Lower Hutt cafes are pulling together to fight coronavirus-related losses - and they're doing it with apple pies, bubblegum, and Simpsons-character Ned Flanders.
Organisers of the annual Sweet As Hutt Hot Chocolate Challenge are hoping for thousands of specially-made, signature hot chocolates to be ordered over the next few weeks, and for locals to be encouraged out of their houses and into eateries.
For this year's challenge, which is hotly anticipated by those in the Wellington region, 15 cafes have created decadent hot chocolates for customers to try from July 1-19.
People can vote for their favourites online, and a winner will be crowned at the end of the three-week challenge.
One of the creations is "Granny's Apple Pie" at the Crooked Elm, a white hot chocolate blended with custard, spices, and stewed apple and topped with an apple pie tart.
Chef patron Paul Rowan said the drink reminds him of the scene in Willy Wonka where character Violet Beauregarde eats a piece of gum and describes tasting hot soup, a roast dinner, and a blueberry pie.
He hoped the flavours would "invoke a lot of memories" for customers and remind them of their grandmothers' pies coming out of the oven.
Rowan said business had been "okay" since lockdown ended, but worried the novelty was about to wear off and people would retreat back to their homes instead of coming out to restaurants.
"We've lost the fat we would have normally earned during the lockdown that would be coming into play during the leaner times."
Over at Tutaki Cafe, hot-chocolate creator Michelle Askew was inspired by a childhood watching the Simpsons.
Askew put together a hot chocolate matching one made by character Ned Flanders, topped with whipped cream, a chocolate wafer, and a toasted marshmallow, with a doughnut on the side.
The "Tutaki Okilly Dokilly" is an orange-flavoured Belgian hot chocolate named after an American heavy metal band whose members dress up as Ned Flanders.
Another cafe pulling out all the stops to get customers to try their creation was Hot Gossip Cafe, with a bubblegum mermaid drink topped with popping candy.
Front of house manager Jessica Briggs was hoping her blue hot chocolate - complete with a mermaid's tail - would draw in intrigued customers.
"I wanted to do something completely out the gate," she said.
She encouraged locals to "get out and support everyone".
"We've all tried our hardest," she said.
Hutt City Council CBD development manager Cyndi Christensen said last year's challenge brought in record sales of 14,500 hot chocolates over the 17 participating eateries.
Now in its sixth year, the "iconic" challenge was created to encourage people to check out Hutt Valley cafes during the winter when business was normally slow.
Many people joined in the challenge with friends and family, with some drinking three hot chocolates in a day.
This year's challenge was delayed so it could be used to "relaunch the CBD" post-lockdown.
The challenge has now partnered with Southend Business Group who will sponsor and run a 'make your own hot chocolate' pop-up container, supplying flavour options for all hot-chocolate creations in exchange for a koha or non-perishable food item - with all proceeds to go to the Lower Hutt foodbank.
Other hot-chocolate entries this year include Fellow Cafe's hazelnut rocky road drink, Atrium's flamed orange hot chocolate with brownie and chocolate-dipped orange slice, and Bellbird Eatery's rose-flavoured white hot chocolate.