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Emanuel calls shorter Taste of Chicago ‘one of the best-attended we ever had’

Mayor Rahm Emanuel checks out progress opening day  Taste Chicago 2012.  File Pho | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel checks out the progress of opening day at Taste of Chicago 2012. File Photo | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: August 18, 2012 6:19AM



Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday proclaimed his shrunken and revamped Taste of Chicago a success and said he plans to do more of the same next year.

By cutting the Taste in half, bumping it to mid-July and charging for concert seats at the Petrillo bandshell, Emanuel led some people to fear he was trying to kill the premier summer festival that had become a drain on Chicago taxpayers.

Those fears turned out to be unfounded.

Instead, the mayor said he has developed a blueprint for how to reverse $1 million in 2011 losses and stage a popular summer event without breaking the bank.

“It’s one of the best-attended we ever had. … The attendance was up. The participation was up. The restaurateurs liked it. The people I met — close to about 400 of ‘em — all were positive about it,” said Emanuel, who took his daughter to Jennifer Hudson’s opening night concert after walking around to sample the food.

“The specialty chef tent was a huge success, as was the pop-up [restaurant] booths that were very well-attended and also extremely successful. ... In past years, we lost money. In past years, it hadn’t been done different. And we had to rethink it. ... There’s a lot going on in Chicago. It’s the culinary capital of the world. We have some of the leading chefs in the world. We came up with a model at the tent of the specialty chefs that was sold out. ... If you’re sold out, you expand it.”

To reverse $1 million in losses last year alone, Emanuel cut Taste of Chicago in half — from ten days to five — and bumped it to mid-July from its prime position around July 4th. The number of restaurants was reduced. The city also allowed a handful of so-called “pop-up” restaurants that had never participated before to get in on the Taste for just one day.

The decision to sell 3,000 reserved seats-a-night at the Petrillo bandshell played to mixed results.

Although there were plenty of people on the lawn, none of the five concerts sold out. Jennifer Hudson had 1,190 pre-sales, 453 walk-ups and 1,357 unsold seats that either remained empty or were distributed to sponsors. The Michael Franti & Spearhead/ Fitz & the Tantrums concert had 1,665 unsold seats. For Chaka Khan, there were 1,623 pre-sales, 757 walk-ups and 569 unsold seats.

The three-course, sit down meals for $40 prepared by a “Celebrity chef-du-jour” played to a 150-person capacity every day except the last, when 135 tickets were sold. The remaining seats were given to students from Washburne Culinary Institute who helped prepare the meals.

The concert tickets and Chef du Jour brought in $280, 650 in additional revenue.

Overall, attendance was 1.2 million or an average of 240,000 for each of the five days.

That’s up 5,000-a-day from last year’s draw of 2.35 million over 10 days, which was down 11 percent from 2010 and 37.5 percent from the event’s 2006 and 2007 heyday.

Restaurant revenues for the 2012 Taste were not yet known.

Last year, the 59 participating restaurants made $4.9 million — 20 percent less than the year before.

The losses were blamed on the Chicago Park District’s decision to close earlier, cancel the city’s official fireworks show, fold Chicago’s four least popular music festivals into the Taste and focus on local talent and family-oriented events, instead of big name entertainment.

This year’s Taste was run by City Hall.



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