Estelle Roberts has seen the annual Lilburn Daze festival grow quite a bit since she first had a booth at the third annual event in 1976.
Saturday marked the 44th consecutive year that Roberts — who has come to be known as “The Fudge Lady” at the annual event because she always sells six types of fudge — has participated in the festival.
The first year she had a booth at Lilburn Daze, there were about 25 vendors with booths set up in a K-Mart parking lot. This year’s event — the 46th annual Lilburn Daze — at Lilburn City Park had about 160 vendors, including 150 booths as well as food truck vendors and other vendors that weren’t in marked spots.
“It just got bigger and bigger (over the years) and it’s a family thing because you can bring your grandmother and your kids and they’ve got something for everybody,” Roberts said.
Because Roberts, who lives in Atlanta, has been participating in Lilburn Daze for so long, she has seen several generations of the same families come by her booth. People who remembered stopping by Roberts’ booth to get fudge when they were kids are now bringing their own children by to try some of Roberts’ sweet treats.
“She’s a staple (of Lilburn Daze),” said Sugar Hill resident Niki Redstrom, who grew up in Lilburn and still makes a point of stopping by Roberts’ booth every year.
Roberts has six flavors of fudge that she sells at the festival: plain chocolate, black walnut, pecan, plain peanut butter, nutty peanut butter and almond coconut. She also sells pralines, sweet potato pies and candy apples. The fudge is made from her own recipes, she said.
Nadine Bily, who chairs the Lilburn Women’s Club’s participation in Lilburn Daze, said Roberts is one of several vendors who come back year after year to participate in the event, some of whom have been participating since the 1980s or 1990s.
But, Roberts has likely been participating longer than anyone else, Bily said.
“I love it,” Bily said. “I mean, she comes back because the people want her, but I just love working on the (Lilburn Daze) committee and seeing her application come in one more time. It’s a neat feeling.”
Roberts said she got interested in participating in Lilburn Daze after she saw an advertisement calling for vendors that ran in a Georgia Department of Agriculture magazine. She called the organizers and expressed an interest in selling fudge and she was in.
At that time, she was the only African-American vendor at Lilburn Daze, but she said race was never an issue.
It has always been all about the fudge.
“(Attendees) would come and they would buy,” Roberts said. “They didn’t show any prejudice or anything. They just bought it because they felt the fudge was really good and they went and told people about it, which made me happy. They treated me so nice, I couldn’t wait to come back.”
Of course, the popularity of the fudge gained Roberts the “Fudge Lady” moniker from longtime Lilburn Daze attendees.
“They tried it and then word of mouth spread and it was ‘The Fudge Lady, make sure you get some fudge from the Fudge Lady,’ “ Roberts said.
After her first year, Roberts said she got a letter from Lilburn Daze organizers inviting her to participate in the next year’s event. After that, she just kept coming because she liked dealing with the people who ran it as well as the people who attended it.
As the festival has grown, Roberts has made some changes of her own to the fudge lineup she offers. Vanilla fudge, which was one of the original flavors she offered, was replaced with almond coconut.
“I changed from vanilla because it wasn’t selling good, and I started making almond coconut — and almond coconut is a good seller,” she said.
These days there is always an early rush on Roberts’ booth as longtime festival-goers line up to get some of Roberts’ fudge before it’s all gone.
“There you are! Gotta have my fudge,” Redstrom exclaimed when she found Roberts’ booth at the festival Saturday.
Redstrom, who has been attending Lilburn Daze for 35 years, said she has introduced her children to Roberts’ fudge and her daughter, like herself, is a fan of the chocolate fudge — although her son isn’t as into the fudge as is mother and sister are.
Redstrom said she loves Roberts’ fudge because “it’s really good.” It also brings back memories of her childhood as she indulges her sweet tooth.
“It’s happiness,” she said. “I don’t get to have fudge all of the time so it’s an extra treat.”
Roberts said other people who remembered getting fudge from her booth as kids are still fans longing to try some every year. One man who grew up in Lilburn, but is now an attorney in Athens, sent his mother on his behalf Saturday.
“She said every year he tells her, ‘Mom, make sure you go get my fudge,’” Roberts said.