Taste Of Chicago Arrests Drop 50%, But Attendance Down, Too

CHICAGO (STMW) – From a security standpoint, this year’s Taste of Chicago was a rousing success. From a sales and attendance standpoint, it was a flop.

While officials did not release hard numbers Tuesday, city officials and Taste vendors acknowledged the number of visitors to the city’s biggest annual festival was down, as were ticket sales for some vendors. The Park District, which ran the fest this year, said it lost money.

And Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the city is going to take a look at the 31-year old chowfest, even though he vowed to keep it going in the future.

“We’ll ask some core questions,’’ Emanuel said Tuesday, two days after the Taste ended. “ … We will ask questions about how to do it better, but not [about] whether we should” continue to hold it.

Charles Robinson the owner and founder of Robinson’s No. 1 Ribs — long a top seller at the Taste — said his sales had dropped 30 to 40 percent. He’ll be lucky if he breaks even this year, he said.

“It’s hard to be out there 10 days and not make any money,” Robinson told the Sun-Times Tuesday. “We’re not out there just to get our name out, we’re out there to make money. If we break even, we’ll be lucky this year.”

Last year, he made nearly $300,000, but he estimates this year his sales only hit $200,000.

Robinson said reduced hours, the lack of big-name entertainment and no fireworks show on July 3rd — along with a still-lagging economy — all contributed to the poor turn-out.

“The most important thing that happened was the lack of entertainment, closing down early and not letting people in until 11 a.m.,” Robinson said. The Taste also ended at 8:30 p.m. nightly, a half-hour earlier than previous years — and 6 p.m. on Sunday, which took some by surprise, he said.

Other food vendors shared similar stories.

At the tent run by Bobak Sausage Co., 5275 S. Archer, sales were down almost by half over last year. Chef German Alvarado believes there was an increase in foot traffic, but said that did not translate into greater sales. And Lynn Sapp, owner of Original Rainbow Cone, 9233 S. Western, said foot traffic was up over last year but she expected sales to be down when the final figures were tallied.

Robinson said the event should be handed over to a private firm to run — an idea that was discussed but rejected by former Mayor Richard M. Daley as he sought to reverse $7 million in festival losses over three years. City Hall ultimately rejected a proposal to charge a $10 admission fee to the event.

“I’m game personally for Taste of Chicago charging a fee to get in and bringing in the right kind of entertainment to the event,” Robinson said. “It might be good to have it privatized and make it a win-win, make it good for the company [running it] as well as the vendors. I think it could be very successful and it could be what it was at one point.”

At its peak, the Taste — which started in 1980 — drew 3.6 million visitors in 2006 and 2007. But last year, after the July 3rd fireworks show at Grant Park was canceled, it drew just 2.65 million people.

Some city officials this week privately questioned whether having fewer attractions to draw people to the Taste, coupled with recent high-profile attacks downtown, could have kept people away in droves.

Still, there were some bright spots. Emanuel on Tuesday congratulated newly-appointed Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy on the nearly 50 percent drop in arrests and a 20 percent reduction in citations for soliciting, panhandling and peddling without a license. There also wasn’t a single incident involving illegal weapons.

Emanuel said the summer festival will live on, but possibly with some changes.

“The Taste Chicago is a positive for the city. When I went through and walked two Saturdays ago, I met people from England, people from Australia, people from Ohio, Canada, Oklahoma, North Carolina, people from the suburbs all coming to Chicago experiencing Chicago, seeing the best of Chicago. I want that to continue,” Emanuel said. “It doesn’t mean we still do it the same way we’ve done it.’’

The new mayor was non-committal when asked whether he would someday be able to find the money to restore the city’s July 3rd fireworks extravaganza.

“I’m not a soothsayer, so I can’t tell you the future,” he said. “We’ll always evaluate. … Is this the best way to do it? Can we do it better? What can we do to improve? I can’t tell you what the future will bring.”

Jessica Maxey-Faulkner, a park district spokeswoman, said the new family-friendly Taste received rave reviews from some.

“We had so many people come to us, saying I haven’t been here in five to 10 years, that’s been great,” Maxey-Faulkner said.

© Sun-Times Media Wire Chicago Sun-Times 2011. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

  • tom Sharp

    Looks like those flash mobs are ribs lovin’ fools!!!

  • ConcernedChicagoan

    It is not fair to punish the tourist and the rest of Chicagoans and tourists because of a small group of stupid flash mobs! Also, extremely poor management in this year’s taste. The City should make the taste better, safer and more efficient. Reducing the opening hours, close early, especially on July 3rd and no fireworks…etc. This year’s Taste of Chicago definitely leave a bad mark for the whole city.
    The whole management team of this year’s Taste should be fired.

  • ConcernedChicagoan

    It is not fair to punish the rest of Chicagoans and tourists because of a small group of stupid flash mobs! Also, extremely poor management in this year’s taste. The City should make the “Taste” better, safer and more efficient. This year’s action such as reducing the opening hours, close early, especially on July 3rd and no fireworks…etc. are indications of poor and irresponsible management. This year’s Taste of Chicago will definitely leave a bad mark for the whole city. In order to restore Chicago’s image, the whole management team of this year’s “Taste of Chicago” should be fired.

  • steve

    The taste blows. 8 different pizza vendors, the big turkey drumstick and eli’s cheescake. How many people do they expect to draw to pay 9 bucks in tickets to get a slice of connies pizza. LAME!

    • PJ

      worst taste i have ever been to in 25 years ,pathetic!
      to many pizza places the entertainment sucks ,and no fireworks what did they expect! lower prices on food charge admission,talk to the Maor of Milwaukee and get smart! Cmon our city is a joke!

  • jimbo

    Hmmm, no big name entertainment, overpriced pizza and beer, no fireworks and flashmobs. Really? It was a flop? Big surprise you morons who run this thing.
    What happened to the whole lottery system for restaurants to get to really expose a diverse food selection, like when the taste first started. It’s the same lame pizza vendors year after year.

  • Martin Juen

    You can’t blame the economy for everything . And just because you are selling food at a event like Taste of Chicago does not mean that you can sell mediocre fast food for quality price . I am from Austria and the food was such a dissapointment .

  • JT

    The politicians in this city and state are so out of touch with reality. Raise prices
    and deliver less for what’s paid. This is the same mentality with taxes. Raise taxes and give less in services to the public. Pay more for the Taste and get less food choices and no entertainment. And they wonder why attendence was down.
    Next year citizens shoulld boycott the Taste altogether (and ALL city run festivals). Bluesfest has become a joke.
    Maybe if no one showed, they’d get the message.

  • Knee Grows Ruin Everything

    The question is not if, it’s when Chicago will mirror Detroit. Keep voting for Democrats like mindless sheep and watch it happen.

  • Mark

    The taste has lost its flavor. Look for sales at your store locations, not at the taste. This event is meant to allow people to try your product and draw them to your store locations. Even with great entertainment, product ticket prices are too high. That’s why I haven’t attended in years. Too costly, especially when you add kids.

    • Ed Gould


      I haven’t gone near the the Taste (ever). I saw crowds the first year and said I would never go back to the area and I haven’t.

      If its as bad as the others have said its a done deal for me to stay away forever.

  • xavier-k

    i refuse to give up 9 to 12 tickets for one food item.thats a whole strip of tickets!its too costly.and the guy wouldnt let us in until 11:00 on the nose,i was 50 minutes too early.and it was hot as fish grease out there..i found some shade and waited,knowing this will be my last taste of chicago !!!the water misters was a good idea,letting people get sprayed with water to beat the heat,but that was the only good idea out there !!!

  • El

    The last time I was at Taste of Chicago was in 2007. I took my son with me and we were standing in line for a food vendor, when this huge fight broke out right next to where we were standing. I had to pull my son out of harms way. That was the last Taste that we went to. When I go to a festival I want to feel relaxed and have a good time. I do not want to be around unruly, flash mob type of people .

  • Big Tiny

    …bad economy, poorly run festival…overpriced “food”…no entertainment…I haven’t been to the Taste in 15 years…I take my money to Milwaukee…listen to some top notch bands and enjoy some good chow…the Taste is a Waste!

  • Just Axin

    I also have not been to the Taste in years. Big rip off, too many brothers, no real entertainment, etc. The city shouldn’t even be involved in this. They f everything up.

  • Geo. Wallace


  • Somkey Kielbasa

    Where ever the KNEE GROWS,it be becomes a loser and slum.just like the TASTE,

  • Lazy eye guy huintin squirrels

    I thought the deep fried spotted owl was delicious. Its too bad they ran out of it.

  • Can't eat with Lakeesha around!

    I lasted for about 45 minutes at the Taste of Chicago. I just couldn’t stand the sight and sounds of the all the weave wearing ghetto ingrates. Totally lost my appetite

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