The following is courtesy of the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce:
The first A Taste of Edmonds actually was cancelled. A year later, 1983, a committee of four Edmonds Chamber members pulled it off with some local restaurants serving bite-sized tastes in booths along 5th downtown, stretching for about three blocks. These restaurateurs and A Taste of Edmonds pioneers offered to delighted palettes a sample or two of their signatures dishes.
Today, visit A Taste of Edmonds food booth and you get the full-meal deal. You can get your three squares a day at the festival and probably still never get to all the food vendors.
“We originally started the Taste based on the Bite of Seattle concept,” said Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling, who was one of the originators thirty years ago. “We thought it would be best to start with local restaurants.”
Earling said “there were really four of us who put together the first Taste of Edmonds.”
There was Jerilynn Brusseau who use to own Brusseaus where the Red Twig operates now; Chris Matt who owned Kintanaroo that was at the corner of Third and Dayton; and the fourth person was Danny Rice who owned a retail decorating and furniture store. “Danny has passed away, Jerilynn lives in Kitsap County and Matt is now an electrician,” explained Earling.
“We had already done some publicity on the first Taste of Edmonds when we decided to cancel it; we just needed more time to set up,” he said, adding that they were pretty successful in getting the word out that they had decided to hold off with one exception.
“A bus showed up with a load of seniors,” Earling chuckled. “They wanted to know where the Taste was being held. It was difficult to explain away.”
Even with a year to convince local restaurants of the marketing value of such an event, it still took a lot of talking on the part of the Chamber Taste Committee. According to Earling, not only was there an entrance fee, there was also the tremendous expense for the restaurants of food preparation, staffing and so on outside of their kitchens.
“I remember it being very successful,” he continued, adding that he heard later from those who participated that sales had been good and that they earned new customers that came back to their establishments later.
“From the time of the first one we actually held it has grown every year and now has come full circle,” said Earling, noting that more local restaurants will be at A Taste this year. “It is now a major regional event.”
“I remember it being quite a small event; it was more local,” said Fran Lumm, general manager and part owner of Arnies Restaurant. Arnies opened their Edmonds waterfront location 31 years ago, just one year prior to the start of the Taste.
“Arnies was at the Bite of Seattle, but we decided to do the A Taste of Edmonds our second year here. I remember that one of the items we served was deep-fried artichoke in a garlic hollandaise sauce,” continued Lumm.
“The whole thing was very intimate in the beginning with a lot of community support,” she said, further explaining that as the festival got bigger Arnies opted not to be involved. August is their busiest month at the restaurants keeping them extra busy as it is.
However, this August Arnies will be back to the Taste. Their Taste menu will include salmon tacos, a noodle bowl and a bay shrimp cocktail. “We just decided the Taste was a good way for us to reach out to the community,” said Lumm, who also commented on how much more extravagant the festival is now than it was in the beginning.
“I think it is one of the nicest festivals around,” she concluded.
When the Taste’s potential for growth seemed exponential the Edmonds Chamber brought in the calvary in the form of Craig Cooke, owner of Pacific Rim Talent.
Cooke was tasked with bringing in major sponsorship, national talent for the stages, and adding a commercial booth section to the mix. He has done all this and more for twenty years. Today A Taste of Edmonds estimates an average attendance of 85,000 visitors.
Further the average expenditure per visitor is just over $30, resulting in sales of $2.25 million for the vendors who participate and the local shops and restaurants that pick up extra business with the festival bringing in so many people.
It takes a significant number of volunteers and support from the Edmonds Chamber staff to make the Taste as successful as it is, but having Cooke as the go-to-guy made the festival growth manageable. Ask Chamber Board members and they will credit Cooke for bringing in corporate sponsors as well which helps pay for the national acts on stage.
“When I got involved, the Taste took place just on Civic Field,” said Cooke. He credits the event’s early success to making his job easier along with the stability of the vendors such as Berringer Farms or Zieglers who had been vendors long before him and remain to this day.
“1992 was the first year I was involved with the event from the standpoint of helping to manage vendors and sponsors in addition to booking the entertainment,” said Cooke. “Paul Kromer had been filling this role for some years and he was still on board, I was assisting him. It was an election year and MTV had a Rock the Vote campaign they took to the road that summer to drum up voter awareness and get young folks registered to vote.”
MTV had made A Taste of Edmonds one of their stops that year. They promoted their tour heavily on the air including their appearance in Edmonds. The event was free to get into back then so there was no way to gauge turnout other than police and fire estimates.
“The event was so packed it was unreal,” said Cooke. “When the dust settled (and it took a while to do so) the police and fire estimates came in at 150,000 people visiting A Taste of Edmonds that weekend. That is almost double what we do now. The weather was perfect, and although very, very crowded the event came off without major incident.”
“As people began to understand the potential of the Taste, adding more interest with concert performances, the beer and wine garden, and so on — it began to take on a whole different shape and attracted more people,” said Earling. “It is one of the delights that the Edmonds Chamber puts on events like the Taste, the Car Show and the 4th of July. The city certainly benefits financially in many ways as it draws attention and creates commerce.”
“The thing that excites me the most is that the people who visit the Taste come back to have a better look at the town later on,” concluded Earling.