While festival-goers have returned some mixed reviews, the city has declared this year's Taste of Chicago a success.
ABC Chicago reports that an estimated 1.2 million people attended the 32nd annual food festival, which faced big changes this year, running for fewer days with higher vendor fees and more revenue-generating strategies after years of losses. Attendees consumed 17,600 slices of deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati's, 15,000 funnel cakes from the Churro Factory and 30,000 rainbow cones, according to the station.
Officials say the festival has lost $2.7 million in the last three years. In a preemptive effort, the festival was moved from the weekend of July 4 to a week later and cut from 10 days to five, trimming vendor participation from nearly 60 down to about 40 restaurants.
The cash-strapped city spends $6.8 million on the Taste of Chicago, spokeswoman Cindy Gatziolis told the Associated Press. The event leads to more than $80 million in city spending, a significant strain on Chicago, which currently faces a budget deficit of more than $600 million.
Taste of Chicago manager Mary Slowik told CBS Chicago that organizers “are extremely pleased with the outcome of this new Taste of Chicago. We’ve added new elements to entice more people to attend. We’ve added attractions that have proved to attract a new audience."
Those attractions, which included 15 "pop-up" single-day showcases of area restaurants that charged less for space, allowing smaller eateries to get in on the action, were meant to counterbalance the loss of some of the festival's staples. The event was cut in half, which included scrapping the customary fireworks show. Ticketed seats were added to the live music events that had been entirely free in the past, and even the iconic turkey legs were missing from this year's fest.
Vendors seemed satisfied with the festival's returns. Russ Ricobene, owner of Carbon Live Fire Mexican Grill, told the Chicago Tribune that his booth sold 900 tacos hourly this year, bringing their daily average up 60 percent from last year's fest. Marc Schulman, president of Eli's Cheesecakes, told the newspaper:
"2012 has turned out pretty well for us. Wednesday through Friday were pretty consistent, which was great, considering the rain. And Saturday was very busy; our best day since 2009."
But the shorter, smaller festival undoubtedly brought in fewer bodies. Last year's Taste drew 2.35 million patrons in twice as many days, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Lou Malnati's district manager Mike Sterner said he preferred the fest when it ran a full 10 days.
“It’s a tradition for us, and I think it’s sad to see that tradition shrink,” he told the newspaper.