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Mixed reviews on shortened Taste of Chicago

A shortened Taste Chicago had it's final day another hot day Chicago July 15 2012.  Charles RobinsRobinson's Ribs talked

A shortened Taste of Chicago had it's final day on another hot day in Chicago on July 15, 2012. Charles Robinson of Robinson's Ribs talked about how well the 5 day festival worked. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: August 17, 2012 7:12AM

An estimated 1.2 million people visited this year’s shorter, revamped Taste of Chicago this year — gobbling up 17,600 slices of Lou Malnati’s pizza, 30,000 Original Rainbow ice-cream cones and 4,000 pounds of Vee Vee’s jerk chicken, city officials said Sunday.

The five-day Taste drew mixed reviews from patrons and restaurant owners, some of whom noted smaller crowds but steady sales.

In 2011, the event drew 2.35 million patrons over 10 days. Last year’s attendance was down 10 percent from 2010 and more than a 30 percent lower than the record 3.6 million in 2006 and 2007.

While some restaurant owners said the shorter schedule meant less stress, others said fewer potential customers could enjoy the event, which featured just one weekend instead of two and took place during a quieter part of the month instead of the busy Fourth of July holiday.

According to the 2011 sales totals for the Taste, Eli’s sold 50,000 slices of cheesecake compared to about 18,000 this year, officials said.

Charlie Robinson, owner of Taste mainstay Robinson’s No. 1 Ribs, said he was “pretty optimistic” about his sales this year, and said though it rained on Friday and for a short time on Saturday, the customers still came.

“We had an extremely good day [Saturday],” Robinson said.

Robinson said the five-day run meant he could save in food and labor costs. He also thought sales were up from the past year, when overall attendance was particularly dismal.

Robinson also liked that the event was moved to the middle of July, which ended up seeing milder weather than the soaring temperatures the city experienced during the Fourth of July holiday.

Rocky Aiyash, owner of Pazzo’s, which has been open at its South Wacker location for years but participated in Taste for the first time this year, said the main reason he decided to come was because of the shorter run, which he said is “less taxing” on the staff.

Aiyash said sales of every item on his menu exceeded his expectations, and he “absolutely” wants to come back next year for a second run.

For other restaurateurs who thought people didn’t have enough time to come down and sample the fare, the shorter run left a bitter taste.

Nicole Neuhaus, a manager at Eli’s Cheesecake, said this year’s Taste “flew by.”

“It feels like we just got set up, and we got into the groove of things, and now we have to pack up and go back home,” Neuhaus said.

Mike Sterner, district manager for Lou Malnati’s, said he also preferred when it was 10 days.

“It’s a tradition for us, and I think it’s sad to see that tradition shrink,” he said.

But though he noticed fewer crowds, Sterner said he thought his sales were up at least a little from 2011.

Reviews from patrons were similarly mixed, with some enjoying the more manageable menu and the quieter date, while others missed some of their favorite treats.

Contributing: Frank Main

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