City embraces a new Taste

After 31 years of the same old same: 10 days and giant turkey legs, the annual Taste of Chicago kicked off Wednesday with a few revisions.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the event’s changes late last year, which mainly include the drastic downsize in vendors and time change, after it saw its lowest attendance in 25 years last year.

An addition to this year’s Taste are the daily pop-up restaurants and nightly concerts, now charging $25 admission for artists including, most recognizable, Chicago local, Jennifer Hudson, as well as the alternative rock band, Death Cab for Cutie.

“The time change was great,” said Michelle Desnoyer, general manager at longtime Taste vendor, Original Rainbow Cone, 9233 S. Western Ave. “There was always a problem getting people here on July 3.”

With five fewer days of serving waffle and cake cones, the store had to change the amount of ice cream ordered and employees used for preparation.

“We are using the same amount of workers out here now, though,” said Desnoyer. “They just don’t get those extra five days anymore.”

While restaurants and employees may be feeling the downsize, locals and tourists feel they can still get the same experience as years past.

“It’s more exclusive now that it’s smaller,” said Robyn Smith, a student at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, as she gripped a chocolate frozen baby banana from The Fudge Pot’s booth. “It’s less overwhelming but seems to still have all the best places.”

Christina Katsos, in town from Albany, NY, said fewer vendors makes it easier to try more of what the Chicago restaurant scene has to offer. “This is great for tourists,” she said. “We have tried pretty much everything.”

Pop-up restaurants will be new to the mix of Taste traditions like Connie’s Pizza and Eli’s Cheesecake Company and also will bring attention to new dining destinations throughout the city.

“We’ve already had the mayor come over to our station so we are really excited that this will bring more attention to us,” said Julie Karafili of one of Wednesday’s pop-up’s, Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont Ave. “We hoped to get in for the full five days, but are just grateful to be included considering the changes.”

Whether new to the party or a festival favorite, Desnoyer feels that participating vendors all seem to share a ‘wait and see’ attitude with this year’s turnout.

“Everybody is hoping for the best.”
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