WASHINGTON - If you can’t bring D.C. to Hawaii, then bring Hawaii to D.C.

Guests were greeted in traditional island fashion at Wednesday’s 6th annual Taste of Hawaii, a part of the annual Hawaii on the Hill event, with a lei draping and other festivities.

Thousands of people packing into what’s normally a Senate hearing room, but instead it was flipped into a something of a Congressional taste-test with guests sampling coffee, cookies, rum and more.

All of this, a collaboration between Chamber of Commerce Hawaii and U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono.

“It really shows the commitment they have to really showcase Hawaii as more than a sun and surf tourist place,” Hirono said.

That’s the goal for the chamber, as well: to expand Hawaii businesses both at home and abroad.

“There are opportunities to connect our businesses to various agency leaders, Congressional leaders, to see how they can leverage some of the resources that the federal government provides,” said Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Sherry Menor-McNamara.

More than 80 businesses from all five counties participated this year. In some cases, it’s the first exposure for Hawaii businesses on the East Coast, including Gary Yoshioka’s Diamond Bakery, based in Honolulu.

“Being here in Washington, D.C., in a national and international environment, it’s a tremendous opportunity to share what we do and taste what we do,” Yoshioka said. “People are here to eat.”

That exposure on the East Coast has helped Koloa Rum Company CEO Bob Gunter. They gained distribution on the East Coast after the first year, and he’s been attending Hawaii on the hill every year since.

“Now that has expanded to Maryland and Delaware,” Gunter said, “so every year this becomes more important.”

The Taste of Hawaii is the most popular event of its kind on Capitol Hill. So popular, in fact, that that there was a line wrapped around the hallway of the Hart Senate Office Building ahead of the general admission session Wednesday evening.

“There is a waiting list of people who want to come in and experience the products that many of our small businesses have to offer,” Hirono said.

And the businesses keep coming back as well. Seventy-percent of the businesses from last year, are back again this year, Hirono added.