Shorter, slimmer Taste of Chicago kicks off this week

July 9, 2012

The City of Chicago is hoping to save money by making big changes to the Taste of Chicago that kicks off later this week. But some vendors say there's a risk the shortened schedule and shifted dates could bite into sales.

This year's Taste kicks off Wednesday, a week after its traditional start around the Fourth of July. The food fest also will run for only five days this year, instead of the usual 10-day run.

The changes will cut the city's cost in half, from more than $10 million to about $5 million, said the city's longtime Taste manager, Mary Slowik. 

"We are, uh, hopeful and...optimistic that this will...help the event...not only monetarily, but in terms of the quality of the overall experience," Slowik said.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called for changes to the Taste, after running a total deficit of $2.7 million over the last three years.

Vendors like Josh Rutherford, who owns The Smoke Daddy, a barbecue vendor at this year's event, seem open to the changes.

But Rutherford said he worries about bad weather with the shorter schedule.

"If you lose one day out of five, you know that's a 20 percent swing on your overall sales," he said.

The date shift away from the traditional holiday may also make the crowds smaller, Rutherford said. He made about $100,000 in sales last year, and is planning on $65,000 in sales this year.

But Dennis D'Anegelo, with Lou Malnati's Pizza, said the smaller number of vendors may even out sales.

"If the same amount of people come, it might end up pretty good still, because you got 40 vendors [instead of last year's] 60, and we're one of four pizza places. So it's all proportional," he said.

This year's revamped Taste also features some fancier eats from some of Chicago's top chefs. But gone is the iconic barbecued turkey leg, at least for this year.