Deciding on the ten honorees wasn’t necessarily the hard part, Lewandowski said last week during an event to celebrate them. Where more problems arose, she said, was in tracking down her busy honorees to ask if they would accept the designation, a process that quickly became befit of its own Chocolate Factory play.
“It’s difficult to be an honoree, and I wanted to be humble in my ask,” said Lewandowski, who serves as executive director of the theater. “I wanted to show them that it meant that much to us. So I proposed to them.”
Armed with ten roses, Lewandowski went to the homes and offices of each honoree, got down on one knee, and asked if they would accept the honor. Some whereabouts, she said, were easier to ascertain than others.
“I had to really track some of them down,” she said. “In some cases, I had to get staff to help me. I saw [Councilman] Jimmy van Bramer at the State of the Borough and he was like ‘What do you have to ask me?’ but there were too many people. So I ended up proposing to him at City Hall.”
Needless to say, he said yes.
“I had the great fortune of being proposed to by my husband in Puerto Rico three years ago,” Van Bramer said. “When Sheila got down on her knee to propose to me, you made my husband look really bad.”
The honorees gathered last week for a celebration at the Chocolate Factory, at which Lewandowski feted them with champagne and Girl Scout cookies.
“Everyone in this room does the best they can for their families, their communities, their businesses,” Lewandowski said. “By honoring you, I’m looking at the best I can possibly be.”
Martha Sherman, an honoree who has been attending performances at the Chocolate Factory since it opened, said she was excited to be anointed the “Audience Queen of Dance,” as Lewandowski put it.
“I totally love it,” she said. “I’m thrilled. Only the Chocolate Factory could come up with this category of best audience member, and I have to say, it’s true. I really am. I adore the performances and am so thrilled and honored to attend them.”
She said she has been attending performances since the theater opened, as well as attending Taste of LIC since its first year.
“I remember being at the first Taste of LIC and thinking how brilliant it was,” she said. “I had never been to anything like it. It was tiny the first year, but it was such a big hit.”
Michelle Coffey of the Lambent Foundation, which has given grants to the Chocolate Factory, said she was thrilled to be an honoree and to be working with the theater.
“I’m deeply surprised and wonderfully tickled,” she said. “This is the community to be a part of in terms of civic engagement, and the Chocolate Factory has been revolutionary in terms of the type of work being done.”
Rebecca Trent, owner of the LIC restaurant and comedy club The Creek and the Cave, who has participated in Taste of LIC since its first year, said she was thrilled to be an honoree and to be participating in the event in its 10th year.
“[Taste of LIC] brings the community together,” she said. “It’s wonderful to be an honoree. I’m so impressed with what Sheila’s built and so happy to be a part of it.”
Lewandowski said that everyone in the room had contributed to turning Taste of LIC from a tiny event with five restaurants to the more than 50 that will participate on June 2.
“We’re in our 10th year, and these people took huge risks with us,” she said. “And it’s hard to take risks. Every single one of them has a story with us.”