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Aquarium of Niagara adds spice to fundraising event

When the Aquarium of Niagara holds its annual "Original Taste of Niagara -- SEAsonings" event Thursday, guests will be able to munch on some of the finest food the region has to offer while viewing the underwater exhibits.

"When you are going from restaurant to restaurant, or winery to winery, you are in between each exhibit. All of a sudden you might see an octopus come out and look at you," said Director of Development Gay Molnar, who added with a laugh, "Hopefully that restaurant is not serving calamari."

No need to worry there, she said. The annual event that has been going on for more than 20 years seeks to raise funds to make a better life for the underwater animals.

Molnar said the event started small but has grown into a midwinter party that this year will attract 15 restaurants and five wineries offering their specialties.

The event is a major fundraiser for the nonprofit Aquarium of Niagara, helping it continue to expand services each year.

"We've got a brand-new Caribbean Coral Reef that is going to be shown that night," Molnar said. "This night is when people get to come and bring their friends and support the Aquarium."

The Caribbean Coral Reef showcases live coral and fish from the Caribbean.

Molnar said officials are trying to offer more environmental projects that the public will enjoy while also being educated.

The Aquarium of Niagara has a $1.5 million annual budget, which is not subsidized by Niagara County or the City of Niagara Falls.

About $57,000 is received each year from a state grant, but the majority of the budget is funded by admission fees and support from the community in fundraisers, like "SEAsonings," which is one of three major fundraiser offered each year, Molnar said.

"We have over 240,000 people come through our doors each year, which we are very happy about," she said.

Molnar said the Aquarium is planning for a crowd of about 300 to 350 people for "SEAsonings," noting that a majority of restaurants have specialties that people look forward to each year.

"Lebros [of Getzville] always brings their stuffed ravioli, which everybody loves. Hard Rock Cafe [of Niagara Falls] has brought their pulled pork many times and Just Say Cheesecake [of Buffalo] -- well that's a given. Their cheesecake is decadent," Molnar said.

Others offering food samplings are: Delaware North's Top of the Falls restaurant, the NCCC Culinary Arts Program, Quality Inn and Suites, the Conference and Event Center Niagara Falls and Trio's Pizzeria, all of Niagara Falls; Red Coach Inn's Bistro at Old Fort Inn in Youngstown; TGIF of Niagara, Niagara Falls, Ont.; the Village Bake Shoppe of Lewiston; Dick and Jenny's Bake and Brew of Grand Island; and Westby's Pub and Eatery, and Suzanne's Fine Dining, both of Wheatfield.

Participating wineries include Arrowhead Spring Vineyard, Heron Hill Winery, Willow Creek Winery and Wagner Vineyards. Other beverages will be provided by Certo Brothers Distributing and Coca-Cola Bottling Co.

Music will be provided by Premier Sound, featuring DJ Pat Proctor.

Turner Construction will present a basket and silent auction with prizes from regional merchants, including jewelry from George Edwards Jewelers. Marli's Florist will do floral design for the event.

Tickets are $45 per person and are available at the Aquarium of Niagara, or can be reserved by calling 285-3575, ext. 206. Tickets are available at the door, but reservations are suggested.