Tom Lagomarcino thought he had prepared plenty of caramel apples for last year’s Lagomarcino’s Cocoa Beano 5K run.

There were 700 gourmet treats for sale near the finish line.

They sold out in less than 15 minutes.

It’s a story that, to him, perfectly captures the month of October at Lagomarcino’s, the candy shop that his grandfather founded in 1908.

“It’s a beautiful fall day full of sweets and community,” he said. “It’s a great mix of things.”

It's a blend of old traditions — like those artfully dipped caramel apples — and new traditions — like the 5k, also known as the “Halloween Hot Chocolate Race,” which marks its seventh year this Saturday. 

"It's something relatively unique and new for us," he said. "But it's still what you expect from Lagomarcino's."

At first, he wasn’t interested in sponsoring a road race. But Terry O’Connell, who has long been involved in the Quad-City running scene, had a hunch that a chocolate-themed race would be a big hit.

He was right; the race has grown from 1,000 participants in year one to 3,700 participants last year.

O’Connell counts the race as the third-largest in the Quad-Cities behind the Quad-City Times Bix 7 and the Quad-Cities Marathon.

“You have people who have never ran or walked a race, but they do this because it seems fun and doable,” O’Connell said. “Lagomarcino’s is near and dear to the community; it’s an institution.”

And part of the deal was giving back. Proceeds from the race benefit the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Mississippi Valley. They’ve raised $70,000 to date.

“It grew very quickly,” O’Connell said. “Part of that is people’s love of chocolate.”

At the race, finishers get a complimentary cup of hot cocoa and piece of chocolate; kids get a specially designed “Doreo,” which is an Oreo covered in white chocolate and decorated to look like the animated character Dory from movies “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory.”

“Picture us trying to fill 4,000 cups in an hour and give away all of that,” Lagomarcino said. “It gets pretty hectic.”

Another sense of competition goes back to those caramel apples.

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“If you don’t get a caramel apple, you hear about how good they are, and you get jealous pretty quick,” O’Connell said.

“People really crave those apples this time of year,” said Lagomarcino, who manages the Village of East Davenport location. “You can’t go through October without a caramel apple.”

Walk into Lagomarcino’s kitchen in October, and the smell of caramel never quite fades. There are apples being washed, getting ready to be dipped and cooling off awaiting toppings such as chocolate or sea salt or peanut butter. It’s a process that Lagomarcino calls “an art form.”

“There’s so many different flavors to it that it’s like you’re talking about a dinner,” he said. “You say, ‘OK, I’ll take another bite.’”

His crew dips about 400 caramel apples, exclusively using the Braeburn variety, per day. Throughout the season, they dip 16,000 caramel apples between two stores.

“It all starts with the caramel, and then you add good things to it,” he said. “It’s a recipe that’s been in my family for a long time."

By the way, this motto also has been in his family a long time: “We don’t have calories here, just energy units.”

“For a long time, people have known us for caramel apples in the fall,” Lagomarcino said. "Now, there's one other fall thing." 

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Amanda Hancock is a reporter covering food, arts and entertainment in the Quad-Cities (and beyond).