Revamped Taste of Chicago more laid back

July 10, 2013 1:50:27 PM PDT
The scaled-back Taste of Chicago wraps up Sunday, and the question many people are asking is whether the changes in the festival have made the experience more enjoyable or less.

After losing money for three years Taste of Chicago was moved to after Independence Day and shortened from ten days to five.

It was a beautiful night to take in the Taste and many did.

"The food was great," said Rosie Lopez. "I really enjoyed it. And Chicago is like no other."

"Little more scaled down than we thought it might be, so that's a downer," said Chris Austin. "But the food this year is still great."

Earlier, crowds were thinner after the skies opened up for a second day in a row of rain.

Some vendors, though, say attendance has been fine.

"If you take a look at what we did last year, and you compare the days equally, like Wednesday to Wednesday, we're still really close," said Josh Rutherford of Smoke Daddy.

According to figures provided to vendors, sales were down 100,000 tickets on Wednesday compared to the Wednesday of last year's festival.

But Thursday saw an increase of 150,000 tickets over the Thursday of Taste 2011.

The company hired to sell Chicago Tribune subscriptions says his numbers are up 20 percent from last year.

"We're seeing great traffic, and it's consistent, and that's the impressive part," said Preferred Vendors' Sean McHugh.

"It's smaller, more local," Emerall Young said. "It's not attracting as many of the out-of-towners like it used to."

This year's Taste features about one-third fewer vendors after many feared a five-day festival, rather than ten, would lose money.

Pazzo means "crazy" in Italian and that's precisely how some described Pazzo's owner after he signed up this year for his first-ever Taste of Chicago.

He has no regrets.

"We're experiencing great sales, a lot of people, a little bit of rain," said Rocky Aiyash. "But people come right back out after the rain goes away."

"We thought it would be a little less crowded with the lower vendors," said Kim Danielson. "So it was perfect. We're good."

With attendance declining in recent years the Taste's future is on many vendors' minds.

Some would like to see an admission fee and a focus on high-end gourmet rather than street food.

"Make it a dining evening out to experience really what Chicago is," Aiyash said. "South Beach does it. They do it all over the country. Why not here?"

The city said it will not be releasing any attendance figures until after the five-day festival wraps up.


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