I can’t think of any bad mood a person could be in wherein a run-in with Dori Fostok was not turn your day around. I mean, sure, nobody needs razzle dazzle at a funeral or anything, but I swear you could get fired, and this lady would turn a frown upside-down. Dori doesn’t even have to be transforming you into a glittery unicorn or full-face Spider-Man to brighten your day. She just sparkles from the inside out and is good for a lighthearted chat that will inevitably sweep you right up into the moment.
Dori is well known to adults and kids all over Delaware as a face painter, operating Party Business along with her husband Bob. She, Bob and her children manage to master everything that makes a party wholesome and fun: magic (complete with doves), balloon animals, airbrushed tattoos, karaoke, inflatables, palm reading, dunk tanks, sand art, as well as carnival foods like cotton candy, snow cones, popcorn, funnel cakes and hot dogs. Bob also DJs and her children have displayed their own talents in the biz, with Mariam showing a penchant for character makeup transformations. Mariam recently took on a Halloween-themed wedding, while Sarah dabbles in scary cakes and also face paints. Sarah and brother Adam both craft balloon animals, with Adam learning magic from his dad.
Whether you’ve sat in her chair or not, it’s the face and body painting that come to mind first when you think of Dori, who created the day-glo IN Wilmington website header looks for 2021.
Dori says, “I joke that when I was in high school—I went to Delcastle and later William Penn—and used to get in trouble back then for throwing glitter on people. I see my old teachers now and they say, ‘You’re still doing it?’ Yeah, but now I get paid for it.”
While living in Texas as a young adult, Dori taught people how to face paint. She had followed Bob back to his home state while he finished up college. While she ran an at-home daycare, a family bought a face painting kit for Dori’s daughter.
Dori admits, “I stole it from her.”
Eventually, she would bribe the children in her daycare to behave with promises of face painting. When out with her children in public, people would see her work and ask if she did parties.
But the story is deeper than that. Dori is a 13-year cancer survivor. And it was during her treatment that she became inspired to carve out her place in the community.
Dori says, “I saw families waiting at MD Anderson hospital and kids were stuck there with no place to go. My husband was actuary, but he always liked magic and started learning it. We started by volunteering: I would paint, or if a kid was too sick to be painted, I would teach them how to paint. To get their mind off things.”
Soon, she won a $12,000 award for a business plan she submitted to the community college she was attending. She put it all into offering respite programs at the YMCA and local theaters, offering weekend art activities for children with disabilities and other health and developmental concerns. She continued that for eight years until she moved back to Delaware to help care for her parents.
Her return to Wilmington meant rebuilding her business from the ground up.
Dori says, “I would call 600 people a week just to get a couple of yeses. Then I started volunteering with Nemours Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, Exceptional Care for Children and also Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. My husband started teaching and doing magic. Now we work every single festival in the area.”
Her thoughts on Wilmington reflect her personal story.
“When I think of Wilmington, I think of growth – constantly adding businesses and restaurants and Riverfront attractions. Beautifying parks. The performing arts community took flight over the last decade, and that alone is something I love. The Mayor’s office opened a Cultural Affairs Office that does so much with outreach and events. I want to be a part of more. It’s constantly evolving and changing, making things happen for people that wouldn’t have had these opportunities before.”
She compared her work in Houston, Texas to her work in Wilmington:
“In Texas, you’re talking about millions of people and many artists doing the same thing. Even there we were lucky because we were hard workers and volunteered in the community, even doing the Mayor’s Fourth of July celebration with Beach Boys. We always did things on bigger levels, where we might have to train twenty people on a team. Here, we started with just me and my husband and then our kids as each came of age.”
“The competition is fiercer here because there isn’t as big of a population. There’s plenty of work for everyone, though, so there’s no need for anyone to monopolize the market. We unsuccessfully tried to partner with other entertainers, but when I couldn’t team up, I started to make my own team. Ultimately, we trained about fourteen face painters and nine balloon artists to join with us. Many have now branched out, and I see it as healthy competition.”
The true Dori is reflected in her next sentence: “This isn’t rocket science – we’re painting a butterfly on a face. Let’s make it about that happiness aesthetic.”
In COVID times, Dori has traded in her volunteering at AI in order to do art lessons for kids online to get her and her family through the pandemic.
We surely could have chatted all day, but IN Wilmington has a Proust questionnaire of sorts that we like to fire at our superstars.
IN: What are your favorite food and beverage establishments INWilmington?
Dori: I love Mrs. Robino’s. I like that it’s owned by a family and been there for years. They gave us our start with a kid’s night there. I’ve met so many families whom I’ve seen grow up, and even get married and have kids. Plus, the food is really good. When my dad was alive, he always wanted me to bring him home a porkette sandwich, but lasagna is my favorite.
I also love Ubon. I like the hot and spicy soup, and a mixture of all their appetizers which includes spring rolls.
I love Constitution Yards for their drinks and nachos, Farmer & The Cow for their bleu cheese burger, DE.CO for sushi and coffee, and Kid Shelleen’s – I love their nachos and they have a watermelon cocktail in the summer.
…and then Wilmington’s festivals, like the Greek Festival, etc.
IN: What are your favorite spots for live music INWilmington?
Dori: We loved Ernest & Scott. We love Chelsea Tavern and loved going to the parks, like Cool Spring – they sometimes have a kid’s day with music and food trucks. I like outside events.
IN: What are your favorite places to enjoy the great outdoors INWilmington?
IN: Who are your favorite visual artists INWilmington?
Dori: I love Joe del Tufo. He did a photo shoot for my daughter when pregnant.
Eunice LaFate, who is always giving and teaching in the community.
Irina Turner does splatter art painting, and Morgan’s of Delaware just started featuring her art printed on handbags and dresses. It looks like paint coming to life. I like art that can touch people and move with people – she does that with a canvas.
Jeremy Hebbel – I just hired him to do some art for Christmas presents.
IN: Who are your favorite musicians INWilmington?
IN: Who are your favorite performance-based artists INWilmington?
Dori: Fearless Improv – it doesn’t matter how many times you go, it’s always different. I recently painted Christian Wills, who goes by Anthem, and I enjoy him.
IN: What are your favorite community organizations or non-profits INWilmington?
Dori: AI duPont Children’s Hospital, NAMI Delaware (National Alliance on Mental Illness). I do a lot for the 321Foundation, which helps children with autism and Down Syndrome. I love Christina Cultural Arts Center – they often offer scholarships for students of the arts.
IN: Who are your favorite politicians or community leaders INWilmington?
Dori: I liked Mayor Williams, used to do a lot with him and Mayor Purzycki is nice. I love Tina Betz, she works in the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs and does a lot with the local community.
IN: What is a favorite “hidden gem” INWilmington?
Dori: Spaceboy – I love their clothing. They have stuff they can make for you and stuff you can find that’s retro and vintage. My daughters don’t like new stuff, so I like shopping for the 50s, 60s and 70s stuff that they have. The always have old toys and glasses and hats.
I also love Gloss Salon – they make you feel like family and you feel beautiful when you leave.
The nature walk at the Riverfront is a hidden gem.
IN: What are your favorite events INWilmington?
Dori: Brandywine Festival of the Arts is my absolute favorite. Not just because I get to facepaint, but it’s a whole community of places to eat, food trucks, bringing everyone together. I run into everyone at every little corner. The art is beautiful and it’s my favorite park.