Taste Of Chicago Reopens For Final Day

The sun shone bright and hot over Taste of Chicago on its final day Sunday as vendors hoped to rebound from a rare closure of the festival earlier in the weekend.

There were few signs of the puddles and stagnant water that had forced the festival to shut down Saturday — only the second closure in its 34-year history — after a morning downpour caused concern that standing water could pose a hazard to the electrical wiring in food preparation areas.

No attendance figures were available late Sunday.

Vendors said they understood why the city had closed the event but noted that losing a prime day in the planned five-day festival could leave them in the red.

“It’s just not going to be a winning year, for sure, because Saturday would have probably been our busiest day,” said Ken Raskin, of Manny’s Cafeteria and Deli on the Near West Side. “It couldn’t have been a worse day for this to happen.”

The restaurant, back at Taste this year to sell barbecued turkey legs after taking two years off from the festival, was sitting on 30,000 pounds of unsold turkey as a result of the closure, Raskin said.
“That’s part of outdoor festivals,” he said. “You have to roll with it.”

Eli’s Cheesecake owner Marc Schulman was just happy that the weather had turned and people were out for the company’s annual birthday cheesecake event. One of the vendors that participated in the first Taste of Chicago, on July 4, 1980, Schulman’s Dunning restaurant has a tradition of handing out free cheesecake at Taste to celebrate the anniversary, he said.

Crowds gathered Sunday afternoon on the southeast side of Buckingham Fountain as a giant three-tiered cheesecake was lowered by forklift from a nearby truck. The event was supposed to have taken place Saturday but had to be postponed because of the rain.

“When you do an outdoor event, there’s always a risk,” Schulman said.

Looking out at the sun-drenched fountain as the temperature crept toward 80 degrees, Schulman said Sunday was as good a day as Saturday for a cheesecake party.

“As bad as it was yesterday is as good as it is today,” he said.

Saturday’s closure came as organizers were hoping to build on last year’s success, in which Taste turned a profit for the city for the first time since 2007. Vendors said there has been talk about asking the city to reimburse them for the lost day, but that still wouldn’t cover the bulk of the vendors’ losses. And many vendors have become accustomed to losing some money on the festival, they said.

“A lot of restaurateurs use it to see customers,” Schulman said. “You’re doing it for more than just the short-term profits.”

First-time vendors said the closure wouldn’t deter them from participating in the festival next year.

“If anything, it made us 100 percent sure that the organizers can handle it, they’ve got it all planned out,” said Christopher Gomez, spokesman for a pop-up stand run by Mamma Mia, an Italian restaurant in the Cragin neighborhood.

The restaurant had reserved its booth for Sunday, so Saturday’s closure caused only minor problems. Crews weren’t able to unload and prep as they had planned, Gomez said.

“We will definitely be coming back,” Gomez said.

kgeiger@tribune.com | Twitter: @kimgeiger